Friday, February 10, 2012

The Need for Empahty

I wanted to pass along the following from Edna Sackson.  I came across this excerpt via George Couros and his blog The Principal of Change.  Sackson had the following to say regarding empathy:

I’ve spent many hours in a hospital this past week (not as a patient)  and have become acutely aware of the effects of every personal (and not so personal) interaction. It’s irrelevant whether the person concerned (or not so concerned)  is a doctor,  a nurse, an orderly or a cleaner. Only some display empathy. Not all are communicators. These are the things that matter. These are the things we should teach our children…

I recall sitting in on a presentation delivered by Alan November to educators in New Jersey.  Mr. November was talking about skills valued by companies and during the course of his presentation, Mr. November referenced a survey that was completed by CEOs.  I believe, if my memory is correct, that the CEOs of 100 multinational corporations were questioned about skills they value when considering candidates for executive positions. The survey showed that empathy was valued above any other quality.

I thought about Mr. November's remarks earlier this week.  I sat in on several interviews for a supervisory position.  While I think candidates were challenged to disseminate an instructional vision, I wonder if a set of questions or follow-up discussions could have focused on empathy and the potential ability of a candidate to demonstrate this quality. 

I just look at school and in my case a high school.  We are interacting with kids, as young as 14, who are learning to deal with a wide range of emotions and situations.  Consider that in some cases we are asking kids to be full-time students while at the same time care for family members or require students to stay current with work while dealing with depression.  I feel at times we are asking students to manage a situation that even adults would struggle to handle. As a supervisor over several departments and chairing services such as 504 and I&RS, you try to develop meaningful intervention strategies.  However, this is a challenge when considering the academic expectations and traditional education system that governs most schools.  We talk about placing above all else the well-being of a student, but do we have a structure that actually allows for that to transpire?

I think it is valuable to keep Edna Sackson's excerpt in mind when dealing with students.  Educators have to be compassionate and empathetic.  There needs to be a recognition of what students are feeling and or experiencing and adjust accordingly.  Herein lies a powerful learning experience.  Endeavors can be crafted where students are moved to consider the the life of an individual that greatly contrasts their own.  Important and enduring thoughts can  be generated from these guided moments in the classroom.  However, I think if we want to imbue a greater sense of empathy within students, we have to model this behavior.  In doing so, students are moved to consider our actions and reflect upon how something such as a simple hello or words of encouragement can make a difference.