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School Psychology Corner: Teaching Empathy: Turning a Lesson Plan into a Life Skill

by Joe Hirsch, Educator
Worried about the shrinking presence of empathy in our schools? I know how you feel.
With classrooms operating more like grade factories, it’s hard to make the case for school-driven empathy. Faced with an endless cycle of memorize, drill, spit back and test, teachers have become the wardens of a new educational reality that pits the head against the heart. Even if educators manage to skate past the dizzying array of standards and value-added evaluations, they must still contend with this fundamental divide: academic rigor, with its unflinching emphasis on measurable success, seems strangely at odds with emotional intelligence, a soufflé of moods and feelings. Which leaves many to wonder — can empathy feel its way back into the classroom?
For an unlikely accomplice, look no farther than tomorrow’s lesson plan. That’s because evidence-based models of instruction can become empathy builders, tools for the mind and spirit. Designed around cooperative learning, your lesson plan can actively foster class-wide feelings of cohesiveness, collaboration and interdependence — without sacrificing instructional time or learning goals.
Cooperative Learning: An Empathy Lever
In cooperative learning, students work together, think together and plan together using a variety of group structures designed along an instructional path. This dynamic learning model breaks with the dusty forms of frontal teaching that often create classrooms of
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