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Empathy in the teacher student relationship

Empathy in the teacher student relationship
Empathy in the teacher student relationship

Empathy is called a space where it is possible to establish genuine contact with another person. Another definition is that empathy is an attitude in which we are ready to receive emotional signals from other people. Still others believe that empathy is a competence we learn throughout our lives that allows us to hear and see the other person in what they are experiencing. So what is empathy and how does it influence building the teacher student relationship?

We have been talking about empathy for a short time – since in the early 1990s the Italian Giacomo Rizzolatti and a team of scientists discovered a group of nerve cells (mirror neurons) that are activated when we perform some activities or when we observe their execution in another person. In humans, mirror neurons are believed to be responsible for recognizing emotions and intentions in others. The result of properly functioning mirror neurons is empathy. Neurobiologists admit that disorders such as the autism spectrum, in which people find it difficult to empathically reflect other people’s emotions, are due to, among other things, disruptions in the function of mirror neurons.

Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), says empathy is a basic human need that is fundamental to building relationships.

Why is empathy necessary in school?

The brain is a social organ. We learn, assimilate information and skills by observing others. Students learn by observing the teacher according to the principle “words instruct, actions attract”. Learning is possible only when the school reality is free from fear and violence, that is, when there are good relations and good contact in it. It is said that good relationships are a condition of effective learning, and without empathy it is rather impossible to build good relationships. In an empathetic environment, children feel accepted and accepted as they are. They feel understood, respected and treated with dignity and thus can:

  • Explore the world (learn) and make mistakes because they are not afraid of being punished, criticized or mistreated.
  • Experiment, learn new things.
  • Develop their interests, passions and talents because they have a sense of freedom, it is okay to have the interests they have.
  • To look at the other person with empathy because someone else is looking at them with empathy.
  • Collaborate, hear and listen to what adults say to them.

Empathetic teacher

Jesper Juul writes that “as long as you are sensitive to the human in you, you will have contact with others. However, if you lose respect for people, you will find yourself on the way to losing yourself. Our influence on other people always starts from within us”. The basic slogan of empathy seems to be – understand yourself and accept yourself. To do this, you need to meet your needs and feelings and take responsibility for them in expressing and satisfying them. The path to understanding others begins with understanding yourself, that is, with the following questions:

  • What do I really mean?
  • What do I care about?
  • What can I do, what I want to do because it’s up to me?
  • What do I not want to do?
  • How do I feel about …?
  • What can I do to meet my need?
  • How will I feel about this?

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Empathy as listening to another person

Listening is the basic element of empathy. Hearing is the sense organ that develops first. It is said that nature has given us two pairs of ears and one mouth so that we can listen more than speak. We also have to learn to listen, because empathy is not about hearing words or sentences, but what is hidden under them, i.e. what the student feels and needs. Listening is also about being mindful of non-verbal communication.

  • What does it mean to listen with empathy?
  • React to the student’s experiences with awareness, respect and acceptance, e.g. I see, hear.
  • Reflect on the needs of the student, ask about them and work together to develop strategies to meet them.
  • Ask when we don’t understand (paraphrase).
  • Sometimes accompany in silence.
  • Be with the student, especially when he is disturbed (frustrated, angry), and not sent as a punishment to the school teacher, headmaster or scare the parents’ call.
  • Try to understand what the student means, what he or she cares about, how he would like something to happen. And if it’s hard for us to see it, just ask it directly.
  • Be interested in what the student says, get to know his point of view, especially when it contradicts ours.
  • Believe in the good intentions of the student. Just as the teacher has good intentions, so does the student.

Killers of empathy – what to avoid

Killers of empathy block contact with other people, but also with themselves. When we use them, we usually want to help the student, but on the other hand, we drown out what he feels and needs, that is, we give him the message “it’s not okay to be you”. There is no room for acceptance in this attitude, which is the foundation of empathy.

Let’s consider how it is with us. Do we use the so-called “Empathy killers”, that is:

  • Comforting and soothing. For example, nothing happened. It will be better next time. There is no need to cry over spilled milk.
  • Advising, proposing various solutions or remedial actions. For example, you should get up 15 minutes earlier every day and then you will not be late for school.
  • Moralizing, lecturing. For example, you must not think so badly of yourself.
  • For example, if you don’t try hard, your exam will be rather bad.
  • Denying your feelings. Don’t overdo it, nothing big happened.
  • Joking, entertaining. Lighten up; let me tell you a joke.
  • Criticizing and judging. It is your fault. If you tried hard, it wouldn’t be the one.
  • Talking about yourself. For example, when I was in high school, I also had a conflict with my teacher.
  • Questioning, questioning. What exactly happened? Why did you do that?

It is worth remembering that a question is not the same as an interrogation. We ask curiously to better understand the student. When we ask, we wait for an answer. There is empathy in silence too.

How to practice empathy

Exercising empathy should start with working on yourself, with active and empathetic listening to yourself, your needs and feelings. This can be developed through mindfulness exercises, meditation, when we have the opportunity to look at what we feel in the body without judging whether it is good or bad. When we learn to listen to ourselves, we will be able to listen to the student.