20 September 2018

Where Empathy and Tolerance Grow

One of the most rewarding courses I have recently taught  had students with diverse mother tongues such as Arabic, Mandarin and Cantonese. As motivated and keen as they were to succeed, it was the way they interacted and bonded with each other as they worked hard throughout the course which remains most significantly with me. There is an increasing discussion on the importance of empathy and tolerance in education and in the workforce - and yet, as so many of you know, it is usually far easier to claim how essential these skills are, rather than put them in practice. 

However, these students succeeded in precisely that, i.e. to practice empathy and tolerance towards each other, thus creating in a positive learning environment where trust, respect and learning came first. No, this does not necessarily happen in the first lesson - though it does help when mutual respect , equality and equal participation are highlighted. Fostering empathy and tolerance among learners is both a question of whether they are experiencing similar experiences, share similar points of references but also how an educator establishes and nourishes these skills in the classroom. 

In the case of these particular students, they did share similar experiences as they were now living in a foreign country and  had to engage in the  language and understand the cultural norms and behaviours which surrounded them, needed to master the required academic skills for their Master and PhD degrees, and most of all, in this midst of this complex process, establish successful relationships with their foreign peers. Despite coming from different parts of the world, each with their own specific culture/s, religion and social values, these students were open to learn with each other and share their experiences and view points. Discussions were lively, inquiry was real. Critical thinking was present in their writings and presentations. Most of all, empathy and tolerance towards each others' differences was embedded in their daily classroom practices. 

By the end of the course, there was a phrase I heard repeatedly - how much they enjoyed and valued working with each other and how they learnt so much from each very different culture. 

We don't live isolated in a uni-cultural bubble any longer. Being able to learn, to understand and relate to another individual, and/or to another culture, is an essential trait for today's workforce. Being able to listen to other perspectives, to avoid groundless assumptions and senseless judgements, makes for richer learning environments and quite possibly, happier, better balanced learners - not to mention a more welcoming work environment, where different voices and opinions may be heard and taken into consideration.

Each and every classroom will develop its own living culture. Nevertheless, educators too are part of that classroom culture and there are different approaches to cultivating a stronger sense of empathy and tolerance among learners. Here are some suggestions to dip into. 

The Daily Wonder App is a lovely place to begin with learners. Based on the book 365 Days of Wonder, this app provides sayings which celebrate positivity and strength. 

Although it may be regarded as a way of promoting the book, the app does have its uses with learners. 

Teaching Tolerance is another great resource for educators.

Teaching Tolerance offers references for frameworks for teaching complex issues, lesson plans and resources , as well as professional development resources for educators.

With a wide range of topics and resources for educators, Teaching Tolerance is rich source of inspiration and a practical website for teachers to add to their daily toolbox. 

Further suggestions:

Want A Crash Course In Stanford’s Design Thinking? Here it is for free (Pt. 1 Empathy)

The Nature of Classroom Roles – An Inquiry

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