Opinion
Student Well-Being Opinion

Sparking Empathy: I Used to Think ... But Now I Know ...

April 23, 2019 4 min read

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.


My Empatico partner teacher and I were excited to do our “classroom reveals,” where our students would follow clues to discover where our new class buddies live. My partner teacher in Memphis gave her class tiny cacti and rebus clues to find we live in Surprise, Arizona. I gave my class geographic and musical clues to learn they live in Memphis, Tennesee.

Anticipation built as we connected for the first time online. We enjoyed asking each other questions like what kind of music we like (hip-hop, pop, and country), what sports we enjoy (a lot of football lovers, especially, and oddly an abundance of Cowboys fans in both classes), how we get to school (drive, walk, and ride bikes), etc. The highlight of our first interaction was Kianna, in Tennessee, leading both classes in singing “Happy Birthday” to my Kihanna, in Arizona! Sweet, shy Kihanna bloomed, and it was a very special moment for all of us.

After our connection, my class reflected, using the sentence stem I used to think ... but now I know. ... We had some great reflections about the similarities and differences found in our geographical and school settings.


  • “I used to think they’d have accents, but now I know they sound just like us.”


  • “I used to think all kids were the same, but now I’m learning we all share some similarities and differences.”


  • “I used to think this was weird, but now I know this is fun.”

Some reflections went deep.


  • “I used to think I didn’t have much in common, but now I know I have much more in common than I think.”


  • “I used to think communication was just talking, but now I know it’s listening, thinking, looking, and caring.”


  • “I used to think that different people should not be friends, but now I know it does not matter.

When my partner teacher and I debriefed and reflected on our lesson and exchange, I learned that our partner class watched videos of our beautiful city of Surprise as part of their reveal. I was shocked to learn that the videos did not reflect my student population at all! The students in Memphis were expecting a mostly white class population based on videos of the city. They were surprised to see the diversity in my classroom when they “met” for the first time.

I used to think my city’s publications reflected my students but now I know they don’t. I also knew I needed to do something about it.

Thanks to Empatico skills lessons, we had been practicing respectful communication in class. So, we invited the mayor of our city to visit our classroom and respectfully informed him of what we’d learned about perceptions of our city. He also expressed shock at the false perception of our city via the videos. We vowed to do something about it together and now we are working with the city’s communications director.

My students had the opportunity to connect in a powerful way with students from a different part of the county. Not only did they shatter some of their misconceptions but they also created an opportunity to use their new skills to engage with community leaders and impact social change.

We’ve interacted with our partner class several more times and found so many things in common: We both use mindfulness in our classes, some of our students believe in UFOs, and many of us love barbeque. I used to think ... sparking empathy meant creating kindness and caring ... but now I know it can mean bringing awareness and making a difference.

What strategies do you use to challenge student misconceptions? Do you provide opportunities for your students to engage with community leaders? Share your experiences in the comments.

Beth Maloney is in her 19th year of teaching and enjoys every minute of her time in her fifth grade classroom in Surprise, Arizona. Beth is a national-board-certified teacher, past-president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teachers Network, and a candidate support provider for the Arizona K12 Center, where she coaches and mentors other teachers undergoing the rigorous national-board certification. She is a member of the Arizona TeacherSolutions® Team, a Teacher Champion Fellow, an Empatico Empathy Challenge Fellow, a doctoral candidate, and a blogger for the Stories from School Arizona website. She is honored to be Arizona’s 2014 teacher of the year.

Photo Credits: Beth Maloney

The National Network of State Teachers of the Year believes expert teachers will lead the way to a more equitable and exceptional future for all kids. Do you agree?

Then help ensure that great teacher voices keep coming your way by donating to NNSTOY now. Donate Now

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.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Where Does Social-Emotional Learning Go Next?
Teachers, students, and parents all want more social-emotional and service learning in schools. The pandemic has only heightened that need.
John M. Bridgeland & Francie Richards
4 min read
Friendly group of people stand and support each other.
IULIIA/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Masks, Tracking, Desk Shields: How Much Do School Measures Reduce Families' COVID-19 Risk?
A new study pinpoints the most effective mitigation measures and suggests that the more of them schools use, the better.
5 min read
Jennifer Becker, right, Science Teacher at the Sinaloa Middle School, talks to one of her students in Novato, Calif. on March 2, 2021.
Jennifer Becker, right, a teacher at Sinaloa Middle School, wears a mask to stem the spread of coronavirus as she talks with a student earlier this year in Novato, Calif.
Haven Daily/AP
Student Well-Being Opinion The One Thing Teachers Do That Hurts Student Motivation
When adults take over on a challenging task, kids are more likely to quit sooner on the next one. Here’s what to do instead.
Julia Leonard
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Whitepaper
The Complete Guide to SEL
This guide illustrates why SEL is more important now and what you should look for when implementing a social-emotional curriculum.
Content provided by Navigate360