The word empathy first appears in the learner profile under the attribute caring, which is defined as showing empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others. A caring person should act in a way that makes a positive difference to the lives of others. In addition, the PYP's curriculum framework is made up of essential elements - one of which is promoting attitudes that contribute towards the well-being of the individual and of the group. Empathy is defined as:
Imagining themselves in another’s situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others.
This blog post has been prompted by the news of the death of Tyler Clementi and the posts and comments that have followed it. Recently the Deputy Head at my old school has started blogging and today he posted about kindness. I would like to say how much I appreciate that Adrian has reached out to the school community in this way and I would encourage others to read what he has to say about this. I have also read other posts, for example this one by Jim Power, which deals with empathy, compassion and human decency and this one by Jeff Jarvis who deals with privacy and this one from Anil Dash who questions the term cyberbulling.
While we deal with eSafety issues in many of our classes, and while we promote a responsible use of technology for all students and educate students not to use technology to bully or tease people, we do explicity teach about cyberbullying in Grade 5 in our Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry to support their central idea that "finding peaceful solutions to problems leads to a better quality of human life". We use the following movie from Digizen to prompt a discussion:
and then we go on to have the students play this interactive game about decisions they could make during a school day to be responsible digital citizens.
Most of the students say they feel sympathetic for Joe, the main character in the movie and game. However what we talk to the students about is the difference between sympathy (feeling sorry for someone) and empathy (feeling with someone and understanding his or her perspective), and what they should do if they experience bullying themselves or if they are bystanders to bullying. It's important for students to know that they are not alone and that there are responsible adults who will help them deal with these situations before they get out of hand.
Photo Credit: Reflection on You and Me by Doug Wheller