I am so excited to share with you my guest blog post "E Is For Empathy,"that was shared on the Sassy Savvy Simple Teaching learning space and was very grateful to share a lesson that stems from my personal beliefs and principles that are deeply connected to three major themes presented in my book, Love Notes: A Guide To Developing A Compassionate Heart and Teaching Students For A Greater Purpose: character development (compassion), student empowerment, and relationships. As I plan for lessons I look for ways to incorporate these themes to provide a dynamic learning experience that extends beyond the standards. Students are the successors and future establishment of what constitutes a moral and civil society. Hence, I am driven by my convictions to help prepare students in reaching their fullest potential. It is essential to empower them with the necessary learning experiences that will develop their ability to demonstrate compassion towards others, along with tools to assist them in self-monitoring their behavior. Learning to be compassionate towards others doesn’t happen overnight; it requires multiple varied experiences to apply the concept within the social/learning context. Enlisting and immersing students in authentic and meaningful character development lessons will overtime shape their moral compass. This extended learning opportunity puts them in a greater position to develop stronger relationships with their peers and adults.

Lesson Frame

Recently, I crafted a connected lesson, in which all learning opportunities were intentionally focused on developing students understanding of “Empathy.” I facilitated students’ understanding of “empathy” through vocabulary development, literature “Thank You Mr. Falker,” by Patricia Polacco, and writing for an authentic purpose.

Common Core Standards: RL.2, RL.3, RL.4, RL.7, W.4

EQ: How does knowing about empathy help me to write about care and concern for others?

Shades of Meaning: Vocabulary Development

Materials: Index Cards with individually vocabulary words written on them. Word list: Cruel, empathy, kindness, sympathy, hatred, irrelevant, unconcern, understand, compassion

The Shades of Meaning activity is a vocabulary development lesson that supports students’ understanding of various words that are closely related in meaning. Words have different meanings and connotations, depending on how they are used in context. Therefore, it is beneficial for students to gain as much exposure to a variety of tier 2 and tier 3 words to build their conceptual knowledge.

I randomly displayed the word cards in the center of the circle for all to see and read each word aloud. Then I asked, “Is there a word you don’t know?” If and when students don’t know the meaning of the word, it is important to have a brief discussion about it and clarify any misconceptions. If time permits students can look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary (while working in small groups or independently) Only 3 out of 9 words needed to be clarified (empathy, sympathy and irrelevant). I chose the word “kindness” as the guide word, even though empathy was the focus word. Kindness is a word most students know the meaning of it. It also encourages them to join in the conversation. One word at a time (with support from the group) the students begin to identify and justify the word order. Keep in mind, there isn’t a right or wrong way to order the words, as long as the students can justify their reasoning. Once all the words are in place on the floor, I ask the students what do they notice? They usually highlight the word relationships, such as antonyms and synonyms. They sometimes change the order, after they’ve given some thought about each word connotation.

Literature: Thank You Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco

Next, the students watched the reading of Thank You Mr. Falker via Storyline Online. Depending on how much time you have, you can read it aloud to your students. In this particular instance, I chose storyline online to optimize my time. The students and I briefly discussed the word “empathy,” prior to watching the story. Also, I asked the students to identify characters throughout the story who displayed empathy towards the main character. After watching the story, the students and I discussed their findings, and connected the events of the story to real life experiences. We also, identified the central message of the story. They were able to relate to the characters in the story and connect certain events to their personal experiences.

Writing for an authentic purpose: E is for “Empathy” cards

Finally, I informed the students that they were all working for a company that created greeting cards. Not only were the students writing to demonstrate their knowledge of the writing process, but to demonstrate the meaning of “Empathy” through written expression. I shared different types of greeting cards to give them an idea how card developers expressed empathy/sympathy through writing. I also created an exemplar of the “empathy” card prior to the lesson and shared it with the students. Afterwards, we brainstormed two lists: one list was comprised of topics to express empathy for someone or something (i.e., sick person, victim of bullying, the loss of a love one, deployed military parents, etc.) and the other listed phrases the students may have wanted to include in their messages. I gave the students approximately 35 minutes to create and write.

It Was An Enjoyable Experience!

Overall, the students enjoyed the experience and gained a deeper understanding of what it means to show care and concern for others. In my book , I discuss the importance of developing a responsive culture that supports students’ emotional and social development, coupled with opportunities to develop character. The purpose for encouraging this connected approach is to help foster students’ awareness of their personal character traits and the impact their behavior can have on others. Our world is in need of more positive and productive individuals who relentlessly pursue and create positive experiences for the greater good of mankind. Therefore, I am motivated to invest in the future of our students. They deserve to receive a high quality education, filled with hope and endless possibilities. Join in the collective movement to teach for a greater purpose. You have the power to influence students to follow their dreams. All they need is a sprinkle of love and a little compassion to them on the path of purpose.

About My Book (Available February 2017)

“Love Notes” takes readers on a spiritual and uplifting journey of rekindling the passion for teaching and learning. Readers will learn how to teach and lead with a compassionate heart and acquire a greater awareness of their power to influence students in reaching their fullest potential. At the end of each chapter, readers will be actively engaged in a reflective process that will guide them on a path of self-discovery, self-worth, and potential. The power of self-reflection gives us a deeper insight into our personal strengths, beliefs, and aspirations. Once we recognize our worth and potential, we are more likely to recognize it within students more readily. At which point, we are compelled to cultivate and nurture students’ personal interests, character, relationships, and capacity to learn. As a result, teaching and learning becomes a conscious decision that leads to meaningful experiences and personal fulfillment. Moreover, a part of the meaningful work associated with being an educator is our response to building students’ character. Attending to the development of their character intentionally and systematically will help to create a positive shift in how students interact and respond to the world around them. If we want to see a moral shift in the world we live in, we have to teach with a greater consciousness that will yield confident and productive students.

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