Empathy

The educator helps learners to respond to their feelings and emotions and those of others as well as developing an emotional connection to the natural world.

Learning Outcomes

The educator helps learners to:

Underpinning Components for the educator

In order to achieve the above Learning Outcomes the educator should be able to:

Example activities for teaching Empathy

1 Response to pictures
  • Suggested duration: 15 mins
  • Technique used: Personal reflection
  • Materials required: A variety of photographs/pictures
  • Aim of activity: To encourage students to develop self-awareness
  • Underpinning components: UC 6.3
  • Connection with other competences: Attentiveness

Short description

Students are shown different pictures relating to sustainability and asked to record their emotional responses. They then discuss in groups these responses – why they felt like that, how they recorded them, how they tend to react to things.

2 How are they feeling?
  • Suggested duration: 10 mins
  • Technique used: Group discussion
  • Materials required: A variety of photographs/pictures
  • Aim of activity: To encourage student awareness of how others might be feeling
  • Underpinning components: UC 6.3
  • Connection with other competences: 

Short description

Group activity. Students are shown a selection of pictures containing people in a range of different situations. Students discuss how they think each of the characters are feeling and why they think that.

3 Concept check
  • Suggested duration: 20 mins
  • Technique used: Group discussion
  • Materials required: Flipchart paper and marker pens
  • Aim of activity: To encourage students to reflect on the different between understanding others, sympathy and empathy
  • Underpinning components: UC 6.1
  • Connection with other competences: 

Short description

Group activity. In your group, divide a piece of paper into 3 columns. Head one column ‘Understanding others’. In this column write words that help describe understanding others. Head the next column ‘sympathy for others’. Underneath, write words that help describe/define this. In the final column, write empathy. Write words that help describe/define empathy. What do you see as the difference between these three?

4 Mirrored reflections
  • Suggested duration: 20 mins
  • Technique used: Paired simulation
  • Materials required: None
  • Aim of activity: To encourage students to think about seeing things as others do
  • Underpinning components: UC 6.3
  • Connection with other competences: Values; Transdisciplinarity

Short description

Person A: Talk about yourself to your partner. Person B: Now imagine you are Person A based on what you have heard and introduce yourself as if you are Person A. Now try the same in reverse. How did that feel? Listening to the other person speak as you? Speaking as the other person?

5 Solution focused circle
  • Suggested duration: 25 mins
  • Technique used: Debate 
  • Materials required: None
  • Aim of activity:
  • Underpinning components: UC 6.1, UC 6.2, UC 6.3
  • Connection with other competences: Attentiveness; Transdisciplinarity

Short description

Group activity. Allocate the following roles:

  • Problem Presenter (focus person)
  • Process Facilitator (team manager, time keeper) 
  • Recorder
  • Amazingly creative Brainstorm Team 

Step 1

  • Problem presenter: outline the problem (something related to sustainability that may have an impact on the group) in 4 uninterrupted minutes
  • Process facilitator: keep time and make sure no one interrupts
  • Recorder: take notes. 
  • Everyone else (the brainstormers): listen. 

(If the problem presenter stops talking before the 4 minutes elapses, everyone else stays silent until the 4 minutes pass. This is key! The problem presenter gets 4 uninterrupted minutes.)

Step 2 (4 minutes)

  • Brainstormers: provide creative solutions to what you have just heard. Everyone gets a chance to give their brilliant ideas. No one must be allowed to dominate. (It is not a time to clarify the problem or to ask questions. It is not a time to give speeches, lectures or advice. )
  • Process facilitator: make sure this is a brainstorm
  • Problem presenter: listen - without interrupting. Don’t talk or respond. 
  • Recorder: take notes

Step 3 (4 minutes)

  • Problem presenter: Discuss the issue and suggestions 
  • Process facilitator: keep time
  • Recorder: take notes

This is time to explore and clarify the problem. Focus on the positive points only and not what can't be done.

Step 4 (4 minutes)

The First Step.

  • Problem presenter and the group decide on first steps that are doable within the next 3 days. At least ONE step should be initiated within 24 hours. (This is critical. Research shows that unless a first step is taken almost immediately, people do not get out of their ruts.) 
  • Recorder: take notes

A coach from the group volunteers to phone or see the person within 3 days to check if they took their first step.

Example activities for teaching Empathy Sustainable Development Goals

Empathy SDG1 No poverty

Develop self-awareness and awareness of others in poverty.

Empathy SDG2 Zero hunger

Develop awareness and understanding of the predicament of those living in hunger.

Empathy SDG3 Good health and well-being

Recognise vulnerable people and groups and be aware of ways to strengthen their resilience.

Empathy SDG4 Quality education

Understand the importance of quality education for all and why a humanistic and holistic approach to education is necessary.

Empathy SDG5 Gender equality

Be aware of different identities (both within and between genders) and the challenges that they may face.

Empathy SDG6 Clean water and sanitation

Understand what it means to be have no access to drinking water and clean sanitation.

Empathy SDG7 Affordable and clean energy

Be aware of the implications of energy consumption behaviours on others.

Empathy SDG8 Decent work and economic growth

Understand how working conditions and practices affect people and why these can be the subject of campaigns for change.

Empathy SDG9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Be aware of others in relation to resilient infrastructure, inclusive and sustainable industrialization and the fostering of innovation.

Empathy SDG10 Reduced inequalities

Be aware of inequalities between people and groups of people and understand how this might make people feel.

Empathy SDG11 Sustainable cities and communities

Develop empathy for un-privileged, communities or cities and understand that sustainability cannot be obtained unless all reach an adequate life quality.

Empathy SDG12 Responsible consumption and production

Reflect on individual consumer behaviour considering the needs of the natural world, other people, cultures and countries, and future generations.

Empathy SDG13 Climate action

Recognise the difficulty in building empathy in relation to phenomena which occur over a long time frame and large distance. Recognise that climate change is also a human experience, which includes affect and emotion, values and subjectivity. Identify needs and connections within and beyond the human species (e.g. with marginalised people living in poor conditions, climate migrants etc., and with the loss of biodiversity, plants and animals). Develop your own and others’ coping mechanisms and sources of resilience when confronted with potentially overwhelming climate change related issues.

Empathy SDG14 Life below water

Understand and feel what an over exploitative situation based on maximum profit implies for life under water and for people depending on it for their survival.

Empathy SDG15 Life on land

Understand the impact of our consumer decisions on other communities and natural habitats.

Empathy SDG16 Peace, justice and strong institutions

Consider how it feels to be subject to marginalisation, disadvantage or power imbalances.

Useful reading for Empathy

  • Benard, B. (1991). Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School, and Community. Portland, OR: Western Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities
  • Brigid, Wassell & Gilligan (1999) Child Development for Child Care and Protection Workers. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
  • Brown B 2008 I thought it was just me (but it isn’t). US: Gotham Books
  • Goleman D 2014 What makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters. More than Sound
  • Ojala M (2014) Emotional Awareness: On the Importance of Including Emotional Aspects in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Journal of Education for Sustainable Development 7(2):167-182 DOI: 10.1177/0973408214526488
  • Ratner, H 2015 Brief coaching with children and young people: a solution focused approach. London: Routledge
  • Traxson D 2016