Building Empathy with Teachers

Jill Thompson is currently an Associate Partner at Education Elements. Prior to working with Education Elements, she was the Director of Personalized Digital Learning at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). Follow her on twitter @edu_thompson


This post was first published on Inside the Classroom, Outside the Box and is reprinted with permission.

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”

by Meryl Streep

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts and feelings from their point of view, rather than your own. An empathy map is a tool that I like to use with teachers to take a human-centered approach when thinking about personalizing students learning. Originally designed for businesses to think about their customers needs, schools are now using them to think about their students needs. Empathy maps shed light on which problems to solve within your school or classroom through a protocol.

The purpose of an empathy map activity is to empathize with end users, our students. When we better understand how they think and feel, it will allow us to design classroom practices that work for them. You can create empathy maps several ways but my favorite way is to interview multiple students to gain perspective and truly hear their voice. Example questions for an interview would be:

  • What would make you excited to come to school?
  • Describe a class you feel most successful in and why.
  • How could all teachers help you feel successful?
  • Tell me about a time when you learned to do something really difficult? How did you learn it?
  • What would your ideal learning experience look like?
  • What change do you feel would make the biggest difference in your learning experiences? Why?

Then when I sit down to do an empathy map, I take a blank piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle and then section it off into the four sections below:

  • Said: What are things this student might say in your class?
  • Thought: What are things this student might be thinking while in your class?
  • Did: What are some things this student might be doing in the class?
  • Felt: How might this student feel?

Inside the middle circle I put the students name and then answer the above questions for said student using the data I gained from the interviews. If you don’t have time to do the interviews, that is ok too. You can then walk through this activity and think about what they would say, think etc— just know with this approach you can unintentionally add judgments.

Empathy Maps are a great way to disclose the underlying “why” behind students actions, choices and decisions so we can proactively design for their real needs; not based on what our needs as teachers are. After completing the empathy map activity you can now adjust an upcoming lesson, task, classroom environment etc to address students’ needs.

Other activities to build teachers empathy:

 

Resources:

Lots of images of doing an empathy map

Google Drawing Empathy Map Template

STARTING WITH STUDENTS: ONE TEACHER’S DESIGN THINKING JOURNEY

EMPATHY MAPPING IN THE TEACHING AND TRAINING CLASSROOM

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