The Whiteboard

The Grace-Filled Classroom

Modeling empathy and compassion

Most of us would love to have classrooms filled with grace, but experience has taught me that not all of us, students and teachers alike, have mastered the interpersonal skills needed to achieve this. Grace does not come naturally to most of us. So, if we want our students to see and feel the blessings associated with grace, we will most likely need to intentionally introduce empathy and compassion into our classrooms.

As teachers, we can design lessons featuring these traits, and we can also seize teachable moments that take place in our classrooms. But, the most powerful way to teach empathy and compassion is for us, our students’ teachers, to demonstrate these skills during each and every interaction our students witness. We know that children absorb much of their knowledge by observing and imitating the adults around them. And, it can be quite confusing for students to hear lessons about empathy and compassion from a teacher who does not consistently demonstrate such behavior. For this reason, there is no better way to teach our students these invaluable skills than to show them empathy and compassion at every turn. 

Teachers can practice the following habits to create grace-filled classrooms:

Actively Listen Whether a child comes to us with a problem or is trying to explain why they are not prepared for class, listening is the first step in demonstrating empathy and compassion. One way to do this is to repeat what the student says in our own words. When we rephrase the child’s concerns, we let him or her know that we are present and that he or she is valuable and worthy of being heard. It creates space for dialogue to follow. It serves as not only the first element of empathy and compassion but also the first step in building trust with students. 

Identify Feelings After listening, we can attempt to help identify the feelings that the child is experiencing. Putting a name to an emotion, especially a new or strong emotion, can greatly benefit students. Naming emotions moves students closer to comprehending and controlling them. 

Acknowledge Emotions We can imagine how we might feel in a similar situation and attempt to communicate our understanding of our student’s feelings or experiences by saying:

  • “That sounds like a very difficult situation.” 
  • “I notice you are feeling some very strong emotions.” 
  • “I can see how upset you are by this situation.” 
  • “I have experienced a similar situation. I know it can be challenging.” 
  •  “I can’t imagine how you are feeling.” (If you are unable to identify with the situation) 

Collaboratively Address the Issue Once we have acknowledged the child’s experience, we can begin to address the situation. We can guide the student through the steps of dealing with his or her challenge. We might not be in a position to completely fix the issue, but our demonstration of empathy and compassion will set the tone for the process the student uses when dealing with future challenges.

If we promote empathy and compassion and practice the above-listed habits in our classrooms, our students will be more likely to extend grace in their own interactions with others—both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Leslie Coleman has over 25 years of experience in the early childhood education (ECE) field. She has held positions ranging from preschool teacher to professional development consultant for ECE professionals. Her training content is used to help educators reflect on and make enhancements to their interactions with children and families.

ChildCare Education Institute (CCEI) specializes in providing online child care training and certificates, child care registry development, and administrative solutions for the early care and education industry. 


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