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Encouraging empathy and inclusivity in the classroom and yard

Here’s a few thoughts and ideas I’ve come across that I find helpful for encouraging empathy and inclusivity amongst my students.

1. Buddy system on Yard

A boy and girl are chosen each week to be the buddy leaders. These children look out for anyone who is on their own in the yard and invite them to join in their games. The class are aware of who the buddy leaders are each week so that they can come to their buddy leaders if they have nobody to play with.

2. Class Meetings

The students write any issues they have on yard or in the classroom on a piece of paper and slip it in teacher’s mailbox. Then at the end of the week the teacher reads through the messages and makes an agenda for the class meeting. The meeting opens on a positive note with a round of compliments for two minutes. The students compliment each other on what’s been going well. We then discuss the items on the agenda and try to figure out ways to solve them. I find the meetings are a great opportunity to teach social skills and lots of valuable lessons such as turn taking, sharing and how to apologise.

3. Empathy Visualisation

The students close their eyes and imagine it’s their first day in a new school. “You are on the yard watching all the other children playing and having fun. You are nervous about asking a group of children to let you join in. When you finally pluck up the courage to ask a boy “Can I play?” he shakes his head and keeps playing with his friends. Then another student comes over to you. He smiles and introduces himself. He says “follow me” and introduces you to his friends. He asks “Would you like to join us in our game?” I found this visualisation to be a useful tool in discussing emotions in the school yard and to help the students see things from other student’s perspectives.

4. Power of Words

Discuss with the students the effect their words and actions have on others. There is a great activity that helps illustrate this called “The Bruised and Beautiful Apple”. The teacher bruises one of the dark red apples before the lesson. The pupils are asked to say mean words to the bruised apple and kind words to the unbruised one. The students see that the two apples look perfect until the teacher cuts open the two apples.  Then the students see that the apple they said mean words to is bruised on the inside. I’ve seen similar lesson ideas with students trying to smooth out a crumpled up sheet of paper to show that once you’ve said or done something mean, you can’t undo the harm. There’s also a Facebook post in which a child squeezes some toothpaste out onto a sheet of paper. She is then asked to try and get the toothpaste back into the tube. The students could discuss how challenging it can be to take back something mean once it’s been said.

5. Modelling

How we interact with our students is very important. When the students see us explicitly trying to include everyone in all aspects of school life it sends a powerful message for the playground. If we raise our voices, it gives them permission to do the same with each other. When we treat them with kindness and respect they see how to treat one another. When we apologise to a students for a mistake, the students learn how to make an apology and how it feels to receive one.

What’s our goal?

While it’s extremely difficult to get the curriculum covered, I think as teachers we can’t do enough lessons on empathy, kindness and social skills. When we ask ourselves the question “What kind of people would we like our students to become?” I think the answer probably isn’t too far off from what any parent would want for his/ her child. I imagine it’s something along the lines of a happy, moral, kind individual who can make good decisions. If this is our goal we need to invest time in developing these qualities during the school year.

1. A First-Year’s Teacher’s Guidebook An Educational Recipe for Success, Bonnie Williamson (See chapter 10 for Class meetings)

2. Rosie Dutton, with Relax Kids Tamworth


4. Amy Beth Gardener

Posted on:

Nov 14, 2017

Ciaran Cunniffe (Guest Blogger)