Paula Franzese, The Power of Empathy in the Classroom, 47 Seton Hall L. Rev. 693 (2017)
A teacher is vested with the power and privilege to shape students’ perceptions of themselves and the learning process. What is more, we are entrusted with the task of preparing our classes to navigate an increasingly complex world. Empathy is essential to that task.
When we teach with empathy we unleash empathy in our students’ learning pathways, allowing both cognitive and emotional aptitudes to align. That alignment facilitates the development of the hard and soft skills essential to understanding and participating in interconnected spheres of exchange and influence. Empathic learning deepens our students’ abilities to cultivate more nuanced, conceptual, and resonant understanding of subject matter. It facilitates the process of deriving meaning from context, allowing our classes to feel into settings and experiences different from their own. Empathy cultivates proximity to the “other,” however conceived, thereby reminding our students that the burdens of their own struggles do not relieve them of the responsibility to see others in theirs and, from that shared perch, to find common ground.
Our students deserve to be seen through the lens of a benevolent witness, and to learn how to apply that lens to others. We are that witness when we choose to see our students as they are and as they could be. With that frame, we are better able to teach and also show our students that it is indeed possible to be wise and compassionate, effective and gentle, and accomplished while also kind.