Exchanging emotions between students and teachers to encourage empathy during class



When teachers understand how their students are feeling, and students understand how their teacher is feeling, instances for empathy can be built off of this mutual knowledge. Empathy can help strengthen relationships, which is not only essential to a student’s academic success but their wellbeing.

How might we encourage empathy between teachers and students in the classroom?

Possible answer: A website that displays emotions inputted by students and their teacher in order to facilitate meaningful interaction initiated by the teacher towards the students.

It’s a 3 step process.

1. The website is first accessed by the teacher where they will indicate their mood. As students begin class, they take attendance by inputting their mood on a shared iPad or smartphone and will then get to see what mood the teacher picked.

2. By “exposing emotions” to one another in a non-confrontational way through selecting emoji-like icons, the teacher and student are aware of how one another are feeling. The website will give a summary to the teacher about the most prevalent emotion in the class and activities to address it.

3. The teacher can then decide to spend some time during the class for an “emotional warm up” activity. The activity idea will be provided by the website, and can be as simple as the teacher sharing a life experience that the students might find intriguing with time for student comments.

An example of what middle schoolers would see when they “take attendance”.

An example of how the teacher would collect the emotional responses.

Expected Impact

The success of the website’s efforts to prioritise moments of non-academic connection between student and teacher could potentially be measured by the gradual shift from negative reported emotions to more positive ones by the end of the school year. That being said, expected impact will be:

1. Number of drawings/gifts a teacher receives from students

2. Number of non-academic conversations outside of class

3. Higher results on teacher evaluation surveys from students

Adopt & Adapt

It would require the teacher to own their own computer to sign up for the service and print the activity booklet, and perhaps one iPad by the door as students enter the class so they can quickly “take attendance” by indicating their mood at that time. An alternative is for students to do this on their smartphones (especially older students). The website will need to be in both Spanish and English, but will hopefully rely more on images and non-verbal queues to keep language use to a minimum.

There is a possibility to make this service analog, whereby students use physical colour cards or perhaps a character they made with paper to indicate their feelings. The teacher would then use their eyes to scan the general sense of the room, and consult the activity booklet to find a “emotional warm up” activity best suited for the collective emotional circumstance. This version is best for younger students.

A possible adaptation is to let the students draw their emotions rather than picking from a list. After testing this idea, we found that students take more comfort in knowing their peers felt the same way as they did. Even though this project is directed at teachers to students, this is an observation we cannot ignore!

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