As my class wraps up our unit on empathy in our Second Step program, I am reminded how important this is in the world right now. We have a vision for a world where all people are valued and respected, regardless of their race, gender identity, or socioeconomic level. Recent events have reminded us of how far we still have to go. Modeling empathy and compassion is important for my students.
Kids are very observant at this age and they take in both subtle and more direct messages about how to view the world and the people living it. They are most strongly influenced by the people they care about — teachers, friends, and most of all, family. How we treat family members, neighbors, teachers, service providers, and even strangers powerfully communicates our true values to children.
In our social-emotional program Second Step, the students became “feeling detectives.” We began identifying the physical clues related to our different emotions (eyes wide open and cheeks up for happy, mouth turned and eyes small for angry). We then used these physical clues along with situational clues to become “feeling detectives” and identify others’ feelings. We further learned about perspective and how one activity, like climbing a pole, might make people feel differently — excited, nervous, etc. We learned the difference between accidental versus intentional actions and how to respond to both. We finished with learning how to show care and concern (compassion) by saying or doing something kind to help when you have empathy for someone. I can see the students practicing these skills daily in the classroom, and I have to step in less because the feeling detectives are out.