Skip to main content

3 Steps to Construct an Empathic Classroom

The benefits of building a course with a little extra empathy will increase class participation, encourage healthy discussions and enrich the whole classroom culture. The following three steps will get you started. 

  1. The Blueprint

  • Draft a Reading Plan

Take time to read up on empathy; there are a plethora of resources online along with numerous books to explore. Empathy and compassion are not new topics consider what the past had to say on the subject.

  • Draw Empathy Maps

Each semester we encounter a new group of students, each  with their own and individual set of wants and desires, pain, fears, and frustrations. How can we better discern these needs in order to empathize with them successfully?

Drawing empathy maps is a powerful tool that will provide intuitive insight into who your students are and how to effectively help them. Create a simple map by dividing a sheet of paper into four parts:

Ask what does your student think and feel? 

What does your student see?

What do they hear?

What do they say and do?

  1. Make Connections

  • Build Trust

Establishing healthy boundaries between you and your students. Start by setting specific course policies and discussing them with your students, this will help create a framework for the class while you get to know your students. Have students complete a course policy quiz, play games during class to teach and review your course requirements and expectations.

  • Build Bridges 

We all want to make sure to cover all the material we need to teach during a given semester. Nevertheless, it is essential to start each semester by getting to know your students while they to get to know you.

Breakaway from the traditional “ice breaker” in favor of asking students some more interesting questions:

If they could travel anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

What did you want to be when you grew up and why did it change?

What’s the last purchase they made that significantly improved their lives?

What’s their least favorite superhero and why?

  1. It’s All in the Details

  • Feedback

Encouraging students to respond in class is a key way to deepen your connection to them. It’s also a self-sustaining cycle, the more frequently you encourage students to engage in class the more likely they, and their peers, will participate in classroom discussions. The empathetic feedback loop needs to be nurtured, however. Make sure you’re participating in the feedback cycle as well, give praise and ask questions of your students as they join in the conversation. If you see some of the quieter or shy students not participating, try adding some virtual opportunities to your syllabus so that they can become involved too.

  • Keep a Compassion Journal

The last step is to take time to capture and reflect after every class and ask yourself these simple questions:

How did your response to individual or group student go?

Did you address all their concerns?

Did you experience any negative overreactions, thoughts, and or impulses, during class? Use your compassion journal to vent out frustrations, ask for forgiveness and iron things out.

About the Author

I am a proud alumnus of Florida International University, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2000 and where today I hold a position as courses in Performance Art, Art History I, Art History II, and Exploring Art. In 2003, I received a Masters of Fine Arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where my work explored issues of Cubanindad, for example, the contradiction between nostalgia and reality, as well as issues of immigration and exiles. Moreover, probing political and social commentary concerning the Cuban/American experience. For over a decade I taught art and drama courses at an alternative institution for pregnant and teen parents. Along with my tenure in the public-school system and at FIU, I proudly served my community volunteering at the Ocean Bank Center for Educational Materials - The Education Fund and with other local organizations. Moreover, I worked as a committee member of The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) serving on its Educational Advisory Board for numerous years. In 2010, I traveled to Romania and had the honor to serve at an orphanage where I taught art to children and young adults. Today, I have started my own company called Art and Joy Inc. whose goal is to engage and enrich the lives of “Golden Ages” in our community. I have several local television and radio appearances discussing a variety of subjects from education to politics to food. Also, I have exhibited my own work in several group shows in Miami and the Midwest. However, what I enjoy the most is travel. I have had the chance to visit twenty- six countries, twenty-four American states and have set foot on four out of the seven continents. My favorite world sites include the Atacama Desert in Chile, Tulum Mexico, Chicago, Micanopy Florida and the streets of Pamplona. Currently, my top five places to visit are Papua New Guinea (PNG), Rapa Nui, Hawaii, Iceland and Antarctica. In my spare time, I enjoy music, gardening, cooking, knitting (poorly), Pilates, cuddling my cat Calixto and dog Betsy and spending time with my friends and family especially son Matteo Giuseppe.

Profile Photo of Roxanna Corradino