Teaching Empathy

Two years ago Gilman School began a blog for the enjoyment of the community. Lumen, as the blog is named, has been both informative and entertaining. Early in the blog’s history, I was moved to write an entry about teaching empathy. As a fifth grade teacher, I found myself seeking opportunities to instruct about this important character trait as well as point out examples of compassion in the novels we read together. Below is a link to that article.


I mention it because the subject of children and empathy comes up in educational articles almost daily. Edutopia, the educational organization founded by George Lukas, posted an article on their website last week titled, “Design Thinking in Education: Empathy, Challenge, Discovery, and Sharing”. The article was written by Susie Wise, a leader at the d. school at Stanford, an educational environment that promotes design thinking for students. The message behind the article was that as schools work to develop curriculum that includes design thinking or real-world problem solving, they also able to promote empathy. Students should be able to identify real-world problems by observing the world around them. In school, children can learn what it means to “walk in someone else’s shoes” through books, discussion, or even more meaningful, through close observation of one another’s experiences. This article is one of many on the Edutopia website devoted to students learning empathy, however the perspective of teaching compassion through a design lab and encouraging what the d.school calls “bias toward action: Don’t talk—do” when it comes to making the world a better place was new and inspiring to me. Enjoy!



As I spent time in lower school classrooms this week, I found myself looking for examples of teaching empathy. In grades K-2 Morning Meeting this week, Mr. Bowie talked about “One Gilman” and the importance of being inclusive regardless of the temptation in our friendly rivalries of thinking “us” vs “them”. He reminded the boys that we are all on the same side at some point in time. Two second grade rival football teams at recess will come inside and become united as a homeroom competing for fun against another homeroom, and so forth. The boys responded well to his appeal for brotherhood regardless of which side you find yourself. The meeting concluded with Ms. Jordan reading a “balloon” honoring a young man who invited a classmate to play after seeing him alone at recess. Clearly an example of empathy and brotherhood that is being demonstrated even without our direction.

I walked into a third grade class where students were presenting their Native American artifacts. The boys were amazingly quiet, listening to how the project was created. They were invited to make comments or ask questions. Comments were thoughtful and respectful with the boys demonstrating a clear understanding of the time and effort that went into each detail. As I watched the beaming faces of the presenters, I thought to myself , that this was yet another example of students considering the feelings of their classmates.


In Kindergarten, classmates were sitting at attention listening to a presentation by their “Surfer of the Week”. They asked great questions and offered compliments. As part of this process, boys are interviewed separately about the week’s special boy. Respectful comments and observations about what makes their friend unique will be combined into a video keepsake. Teaching empathy and the value of an individual- Kindergarten style!


I hope that my communication with you each week encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your son or sons. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.



  • If you are in Kindergarten- Was your Valentine party fun? What treats did your friends bring in? How did you create your Andy Warhol masterpiece now hanging in the hallways?
  • If you are in Pre-First- What book did Mrs. Teeling start reading to you this week? How is your writing about bears coming along? What bear are you researching?
  • If you are in First Grade- When you went in your time machine last week, what presidents did you meet? Did they answer all your questions? Did you enjoy mixing up your reading groups this week?


  • If you are in Second Grade- How did you like the novel Tornado? What are you learning about ocean creatures that glow in the dark?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What artifacts did your classmates make to represent their tribes? How did your presentation of your artifact go?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- Who are you researching for your African American report? How will you organize your research? How will you present the final report?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What is the Stock Market Game? Who is on your team and what will you buy?




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