Developing respect and empathy skills requires time, practice, repetition, interaction, and patience with others. In our toolkit, Promoting Respect & Empathy: A Toolkit for Educators of All Grades, we’ve collected activities, tips, book recommendations, and more from First Book educators across the country, who, like you, support kids in under-resourced communities and programs. All of the toolkit content comes from educators in urban cities, rural communities, suburban towns and Native American reservations. These activities display the creativity of our First Book community of educators, as they share their imaginative and meaningful interactions that help students learn and practice building respect and empathy within their communities.
Take a look at some of the daily, weekly, and monthly routines and habits that First Book members use to build a welcoming, kind, respectful, and empathetic learning environment.
“I Choose a Book Each Month to Discuss with a Focus on Empathy”
“After reading a book, I’ll ask students to identify actions, words and behaviors of characters that show or don’t show empathy. I also ask students what they would and could do in a similar situation to model empathy. When I see students showing respect and empathy to others, I reward and celebrate them.” – First Book Member in Fairfield, CA
“I Implement Accountable Conversation into my Classroom”
It is a powerful tool to build respect and empathy. Asking questions such as those below give students time to slow down and consider the perspectives and opinions of their classmates.
– Can you repeat what ________ shared?
– Do you agree or disagree?
– What I heard you say is…
– I don’t understand. Can you tell me in a different way?
– What would you do if…
– How might you feel if…
– Maria Snider, Child Care Director, St. Paul, MN
“I Use My Morning Greetings to Promote Empathy”
As students arrive, they get to choose how they want to be greeted – either with a handshake, side hug or first bump. Then, when school starts we have a ‘Morning Meeting.’ This is where students share good news from home or community (e.g., a relative coming to visit, winning a sports game, finishing a good book, or other good news). We also acknowledge and wish the students well who are absent. This helps develop empathy by encouraging students to connect with each other – beyond the surface so that we can share and celebrate good things in their lives. Next year, I’ll create a wheel so that students can spin it to show their preferred greeting.” – First Book Member in Pomona, CA
“Our Class Has a ‘Wish You Well’ Helper Each Day”
This practice was inspired by Conscious Discipline. Essentially, when a student is absent, our ‘Wish You Well’ helper calls that student to check in on them, and to let them know that our class wishes them well.” – Randa, Preschool Library Media Specialist, Henderson, KY
“Build Empathy Between Special Needs Students & General Education Students”
I’m a special education teacher and I help our general education students learn how to respectfully support their peers with the same or similar disability as a student in our school. We talk about ways that students can support their peers with different physical abilities – whether by helping them without doing things for them, or giving them space when they are making unexpected choices rather than engaging them inappropriately. – Hannah, Special Ed Teacher, Portland, OR
“Set Up Reading Buddies”
In my school, we have reading buddies where middle school students volunteer to read to K-2 students two days a week in the library before school. This is great way to regularly encourage empathy. The older students develop positive relationships with their little buddies and consistently show kindness and compassion as they help them learn to read. – First Book Member in Bulls Gap, TN
“I Invite Students to Choose and Share a Poem with the Class”
To kick off our poetry unit, I ask students to choose a poem (any poem), print it, and bring it to class. They have to read their poem in front of the group, and explain how they connect with/relate to the poem. Kids are asked to keep whatever someone shares in class within our class – they are NOT to go out and start gossiping with their peers about what someone shared during our class time. Over the years, I’ve heard students read poems that remind them of their parents’ divorces, abusive situations, parents who have been deported and parents who have died or who have terminal illnesses. I’ve even had kids come out as gay and transgender during poetry day. The end result is consistent – students form bonds, they get up and get tissues for other students, friendships form and beefs get squashed. I’ve witnessed teenagers experience a deep sense of understanding for their peers for the first time. They realize that every single person has a story. – April McNary, Teacher, Phoenix, AZ
Find more tips & activities in the Promoting Respect & Empathy: A Toolkit for Educators of All Grades Toolkit.