As we set out into another New Year our thoughts may be full of ‘fresh starts’ and ‘new beginnings’. Perhaps we are looking for ways to live a better life, making resolutions to live more healthily and act more ethically. One place to start could be to explore concepts of kindness and empathy. So here are a few ideas and pointers to bring those qualities into the classroom and inspire your students.
Some definitions, to begin with, from the online Collins English Dictionary:
- Kindness: the quality of being gentle, caring, and helpful.
- Empathy: the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings.
Facing History and Ourselves further defines two types of empathy: ‘easy empathy’ and ‘hard empathy’ – the latter takes more effort but ultimately makes us more committed to working for positive change. You can read more about this from their blog post: Need a New Year’s Resolution? Practice More Empathy. Here’s How. They suggest the following teaching activity to develop ‘hard empathy’:
1. Go to any news site
2. Read a story about someone experiencing something you have never directly experienced
3. Imagine yourself experiencing it
It sounds simple but it can be difficult at first to truly imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. Yet, with practice, it becomes easier. Think hard about how their particular circumstances would affect your everyday life. What would it feel like to be that person? What obstacles would you face? What opportunities would you have?
Oxfam Education’s New Year Resolutions teaching resource helps 7-14-year-old learners think critically about ideal futures. Learners imagine what they would like their future selves, their school, their local community or the world. For example, they might wish people to treat one another with more kindness. What is this future like? What is important? What would people need to do to create this ideal future?
Action for Happiness has developed this simple but inspirational Happy New Year calendar for January, with daily suggested actions to help people be happier and bring more happiness to others. They also produced a Kindness Calendar for the December festive period. There are some great ideas for the little things people can do to increase their own and other people’s happiness. Examples include:
- Look for the good in others and notice their strengths.
- Thank three people you’re grateful to, and tell them why.
- Make something happen for a good cause.
- Get outside and notice five things that are beautiful.
Why not use some of these ideas in class? Or, taking inspiration from the suggested actions, get students to design their own weekly or monthly ‘kindness plan’.
Kindness UK aims to make kindness a greater part of everyone’s daily lives and increase awareness of the positive benefits of kindness to health and the overall wellbeing of society. They have created and designed Kindness Packs for schools with activities and resources for teachers to use to incorporate kindness into the curriculum. Additional copies can be ordered via their website. Schools can also apply to be considered for the Kind School of the Year Award.
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases from being shared.”
This saying is attributed to the Buddha, and the cartoonist Zen Pencils has designed this great poster to illustrate it. You could get students to discuss the poster and its meaning in class. They could research their own favourite sayings about spreading happiness or kindness and design their own poster. If they’re stumped for ideas, Kindness UK has a page of useful kindness quotes for schools to use.
What is it like to have spent years in prison, or to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to have rediscovered love in your eighties? Launched in 2015, the world’s first Empathy Museum aims to help people find out. This five-minute clip shows how they have made real the idea of “walking a mile in someone’s shoes”. Is this something you could try out in class? Some of the stories are available as sound recordings on the Empathy Museum website. Or you could get students to record their own experiences to share.
Further teaching resources
The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education has several booklists, recommended storybooks and teaching resources here: Developing empathy and understanding using children’s literature (Jun 2016). It’s also useful to read this Guardian article: Lost for words? How reading can teach children empathy (May 2015).
Read our guest blog by Grace Benati from Positive Negatives: Why Comics? Bringing important global issues into the classroom and find out how their free interactive comic books and lesson plans build empathy as they are based on real-life testimony.
Check out our Global Calendar and our free wallplanner for the different international days and weeks throughout the year where students can practise kindness and empathy. Over the next few months these include Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January), Red Hand Day for Child Soldiers (12 February) and World Day of Social Justice (20 February).
Do you have any more suggestions for teaching kindness and building empathy in the classroom? Let us know via the comments box below.
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