3 Ways to Teach Kindness and Empathy

Research and Resources from the Experts

As the emphasis on social and emotional learning in K-12 classrooms across the country continues to strengthen, educators are looking for practical strategies, approaches, and programs to actively teach kindness and empathy in schools. Teaching students to understand and live by these concepts is very different than teaching math, literacy, or science, but ensuring that every student internalizes them is just as important, if not more so. While kindness and empathy have historically been explicitly taught in PreK, there is an increasing awareness that middle and high school students also need to have a continued conversation around kindness, empathy, and other components of social and emotional learning. This means that secondary teachers, school counselors, and district leaders are all actively searching for ways to teach kindness and empathy, and looking for research to better understand the science behind these competencies.

Earlier this month, we hosted a webinar with three expert groups in kindness and empathy: Making Caring Common, Sanford Harmony, and Kids for Peace. In the webinar, speakers from each unique and powerful program shared strategies for teaching kindness and empathy to all grades, using a wide variety of approaches. Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, provided research around social and emotional learning, and Sanford Harmony provided an overview of their primary school program for kindness and empathy. Kids for Peace explained their program, an accessible and flexible K-12 initiative called the Great Kindness Challenge. Depending on your school’s needs and available resources, each of the presented approaches offers a unique strategy for teaching kindness and empathy the classroom. Find the full webinar recording at the bottom of this blog →

Making Caring Common: Understanding the Research and Competencies

This approach is all about understanding the research and defining terms. In the webinar, Milena Batanova from Making Caring Common opened by giving attendees an overview of the 5 core competencies of social and emotional learning, which include skills like “social awareness” and “self-management”. Then, Milena went into the benefits of social-emotional learning, citing research around increased standardized test scores and reductions in emotional distress or behavioral problems. Milena also explained why empathy is such an important skill to master, and provided a preview of Making Caring Common’s empathy-based strategies. She closed by breaking down the three components of empathy, and providing a list of competencies involved in empathy. Below, find a sneak peek into one of the competencies Milena discusses. Watch the full webinar for more on teaching kindness and empathy in schools from Making Caring Common.

“Overcoming barriers or obstacles:
- Distress, empathetic fatigue
- Stereotyping, bias, prejudice
- Poor listening or limited attention
- Lack of exposure or experience with diversity” — Milena Batanova

Sanford Harmony: Practical Strategies for Any Educator

Next up in the webinar you’ll hear from Margaret Johnson of Sanford Harmony, a program geared towards primary school students that strives to teach kindness and empathy through social and emotional learning. According to Margaret, Sanford Harmony is designed to teach kindness and empathy through relationship building, and helps students understand how to forge and maintain positive relationships throughout their lifetime. Harmony focuses on respect, empathy, inclusion, and even problem solving and focus. It’s a great example of how time spent with SEL can translate to a boost in academic performance. In the webinar, Margaret also goes into how and why Harmony is effective in teaching kindness and empathy — some of the program features include strong intent, a focus on student voice, and ongoing teacher support. The program is built from the CASEL SEL competencies, and uses special toolkits to teach empathy and kindness in any classroom.

The Great Kindness Challenge: Reaching for a Boost in School Climate

Lastly, you’ll hear from Jill McManigal of Kids for Peace, which leads the Great Kindness Challenge. The GKC is a flexible, accessible program that teaches kindness and empathy through a “checklist” that contains random acts of kindness for students to perform. When schools sign up for the Challenge, they receive the checklist and the tools they need to bring the event to their learning community. The GKC is very flexible, and educators can implement it at a large scale — across grade levels, with community involvement — or at a smaller scale, simply with classroom participation. The program continues to grow: in 2017, over 10 million students performed over 500 million acts of kindness across 90 countries. It’s an excellent way to teach empathy and kindness in your entire district, and to bring a real boost in school climate in a flexible, accessible way.

Watch the full recorded webinar below:

Learn more about how you can teach kindness and empathy in your school by exploring these programs: