Opinion
Student Well-Being Opinion

How to Spark Empathy During Test-Prep Season: Lessons From a 5th Grade Math Teacher in Brooklyn

May 14, 2019 3 min read

- Adobe Stock @ Luis Louro

Editor’s note (6/11/19): The National Network of State Teachers of the Year, the organization whose members write for the Teacher-Leader Voices blog, has a financial relationship with Empatico that was not disclosed prior to this post’s publishing. For more information, see this note to readers.


But there’s just no time in the schedule!

Sigh.

Testing season is ramping up, and time is increasingly precious as state exams draw closer—especially in the charter school world. Frantic, overworked teachers trying to squeeze as many instructional hours into a school day as possible. We’re tired, the kids are exhausted, and the daylight is sparse, but on this particular Monday morning, my 5th graders are buzzing with excitement.

Are we seeing our Quebec buddies today?” I reassure them we are. I also remind them that they need to make sure they complete all of their work in their classes today so we can use the precious 40 minutes at the end of the day—usually reserved for small-group pull-outs and remediation—to video chat with our Empatico buddies. My students assure me they will be extra focused and well behaved for their classes today, and I can tell they’re motivated. The week is off to a solid start.

Making time in our busy schedule to use Empatico was the best teaching decision I made this year. The website is incredibly user/teacher-friendly and stocked full of free resources and activities.

The activities are grounded in academics and can easily be intertwined into an English, social studies, or writing class. As a math teacher, I use it with my homeroom class—at the end of the day every couple of weeks or so—to practice empathy in action. The students love to connect with our buddy class in Quebec, Canada, and ask to connect way more often that we are able.

It’s easy to connect your students with Empatico—even when time is short. Here are a few simple steps to get you started:

Step 1: Log-In to Empatico and Create a Profile

Shortly after creating a profile, you’ll be matched and can begin chatting with your buddy teacher to plan your first session all on the Empatico platform.

Step 2: Prepare Your Kids and Your Classroom

The big reveal was the best! We did a mini-lesson on where in the world was Quebec, looked at pictures, predicted similarities and differences, and talked openly and respectfully about our assumptions. From this brainstorm session, my students prepared a few questions they wanted to ask. I picked some of the better ones, wrote them on notecards, and we were ready!

Empatico has great tips for different ways to organize your students and the furniture in a classroom to be able to video chat effectively. Empatico understands that the technology struggle is real, so they provide a tech test you can (and should) run before connecting to flush out any video or audio bugs prior to your first live connection.

Step 3: Connect and Debrief

The Empatico website has all the tools you could need, including lessons on teaching respectful communication and other empathy-building skills. Some of my favorite activities are “Ways We Play”, “Community Cartographers,” and “Helping Hands"—though you will most likely find, after connecting with your buddy class, that the students take over and decide the content on their own.

Take some time to connect today. You’ll be glad you did! Then come back and share your experiences.


Danielle Roa teaches fifth grade math at Brooklyn Ascend Middle School in New York. She has been teaching for six years and has a passion for not only helping students become better mathematicians, but also helping them to love math as a subject.

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The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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