I am one of those teachers who have been teaching longer than they haven’t . I have been a headteacher and now I am senior manager, class teacher and SENCO in a small village school in Northamptonshire.
Two years ago I went on a course about attachment. This course opened up my mind to the world of empathy and how an empathy-based approach can help children with attachment issues. Moreover it can be used by an entire class, an entire school, an entire MAT and beyond.
Since attending the course I have been championing this approach in my setting, local schools, my MAT and most recently through the power of Twitter and by delivering talks about it.
My talk ‘Follow the empathy road’ is my personal experience of my journey into the role empathy takes in my primary classroom setting and beyond.
This approach can be used with all, for all. One size does fit all. Brene Brown’s work, especially her animations, typify the difference between empathy and sympathy. When we see a child, colleague or loved one in a metaphoric hole we need to resist the temptation to look down the hole and sympathise but blatantly get our ladder out, put on our brave shoes (in my case they are my red Dorothy shoes), and climb down that ladder and stand in the hole beside the person who needs it. It’s not easy especially when the things these people are dealing with are so raw and so personal. Sometimes the act of being is enough. That in itself is pretty powerful.
What we have to give the individual is our time. Listening is pivotal and by that I mean real listening. In my experience by modelling empathy individuals will mirror it back. I have had times in my classroom when I’ve felt a bit low and needed kindness. Children who find the act of kindness and empathy challenging have come over to me and modelled my approach back to me. Now that is mind blowing.
To empathise is to give ourselves up to our own vulnerability and find a part of us that can relate to what this individual is going through. It’s hard and it’s tiring. Sometimes we can’t relate to what is happening and then we need to verbalise it with words such as: ‘I can’t imagine what you must be going through.’ We haven’t got the answers. What we have got is time – time to listen, time to be with them. That in itself is pure gold.
Our empathy cup is not always full in fact sometimes my empathy cup has a got a great big hole in it. Our capacity to provide an empathic ear and climb down that ladder is very dependent on how we are feeling. Outside factors have an impact on how we feel and we must take these into account and pass the empathy baton on to others as necessary.
This is not a one person crusade but a team approach which works through a consistent approach by all around our children. It is not an easy road; it is tiring in fact and sometimes can be draining. The difference this approach can make to all children is immense to see them develop as caring nurturing human beings is priceless..
Come on and follow the empathy road. In my experience it is amazing how many others want to put on their Dorothy shoes and join you along the empathy road.
Ginny Bootman is a senior leader and SENCO at Evolve Academy Trust in Northampton. You can connect with her on Twitter @sencogirl
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