The teachable habits of empathy

Tim Sprain showing another teacher something on his computer.

Tim Sprain, a UWL ME-PD program graduate and graduate faculty facilitator for UWL’s Institute for Professional Studies in Education, pictured during a workshop for teachers at UWL in 2017.

Conference speaker shares how to nurture good human beings, not just high IQ scores

America is experiencing an empathy deficit. At a time when teens are 40 percent less empathetic than they were 30 years ago, cultivating empathy should be a high priority for parents and teachers, says Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and author.

At UWL’s Fall for Education Conference Nov. 3-4, Borba will share how to teach students the nine essential habits of empathy — lessons from her latest book, “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.” Borba, an expert in childhood development, has been featured on Today, Dateline, The View, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and The Early Show, among many others.

Michele Borba is an educational psychologist and award-winning author. She will be a keynote speaker at UWL’s Fall for Education conference Nov. 3-4.

UWL’s Fall For Education conference is a professional development opportunity for area PK-12 teachers and administrators, as well as UWL’s Master of Education – Professional Development graduate program students. It is sponsored by UWL’s Institute for Professional Studies in Education (IPSE) program.

“Education is changing so much. We are finding out so much more. If we [educators] can be the ones to make a difference in a child’s life while in school, we should be the ones making that difference,” says Patricia Markos, director of UWL’s IPSE program. “A teacher might be the only person in child’s life who ever gives them a compliment or smiles at them.”

The IPSE program and conference has preserved and inspired the personal, human side of the teaching profession at a time when teachers are pulled in a lot of directions, says Tim Sprain, a UWL ME-PD program graduate and graduate faculty facilitator for IPSE.

Advances in technology have created a new, online front door to classrooms that teachers are constantly responding and updating via email, websites and online forms. Teachers must look to meet high-stakes standards while helping students navigate crisis that come up, says Sprain.

“I used to teach 100 percent of the time. Teaching is not just about teaching anymore,” he says. “The stress and the work takes a very special person. This conference is one place where people will get rejuvenated and gain confidence and become positive.”

“I used to teach 100 percent of the time. Teaching is not just about teaching anymore.”

Sprain says the key to the success of the IPSE program and conference is taking time to listen to one another’s stories — often by sitting in a circle and sharing experiences — as teaching professionals and people. Then, the group relates and applies those experiences in teaching.

Sprain, a teacher at La Crosse’s Lincoln Middle School, constructs the same circle with his seventh-grade students.

Getting back to these basics of building relationships and showing empathy for one another are important to opening up the doors for learning, both he and Borba agree.

Kids and adults who understand and appreciate people around them are better able to collaborate, innovate, and problem solve, says Borba. They can contribute to a future economy where employers seek team players, she adds.

“We want to raise kids not only who have the high test scores, but who are good people,” says Borba. “The bottom line to a good school is being empathy centered. You get far better results.”

A few strategies from Michele Borba’s book to teach kids empathy.

Tip 1: Build emotional literacy. In a world where everyone is looking down at their technological devices, reclaim face-to-face conversations. Encourage children to look at your eyes when conversing and notice clues about someone’s emotions via tone of voice, etc.

Tip 2: Perspective taking. When you see someone encounter a tough situation ask children, “How would you feel if that happened to you? Encourage understanding of someone else’s thoughts, feelings and views.

Tip 3: Have a moral imagination. Literary fiction is one of the best ways to boost empathy, says Borba. She suggests reading books such as “To Kill a Mocking Bird” or “Charlotte’s Web,” as well as uplifting news stories or films.

About the conference

The Fall for Education conference is an opportunity to discover the latest education-related topics and best practices. This year’s theme is “Never Stop Learning, Growing, Teaching.” Other keynotes include Sharroky Hollie presenting “culturally and linguistically responsive teaching” and Karin Beal presenting “reaching out to the unreachable child.” The cost to attend the conference with no meals is $10 per day. The cost, including hot breakfast and lunch, is $25 per day. Learn more.

Breakout sessions will focus on five themes.

Best practice pedagogy and technology
Curriculum development and assessment
Leadership: teacher leadership and administrator
Culturally responsive teaching
Trauma informed schools