Empathy: A Journey of Commitment

Type of tool: 
60-90 min
Topics addressed: 
Personal development

How can we as educators teach the heart before the mind? How can we connect to our students?

A tool of co-creating a journey of little steps commitment in the process of learning and experiencing empathy to foster


The tool intends to engage the teachers in a journey of observation, reflection, and discussion on the internal state of the students in their classroom by focusing on the value of empathy and compassion in the student/teacher relation to build trust, positive and engaging classroom, and leadership attributes.


- It is mainly a student-based learning where teachers are the students in this context.
- It is an appreciative inquiry that seeks to involve the stakeholders in a self-determined change where they discover, share, dream and design.
- It is a cooperative learning that involves the practice of bringing insights to discussions and work together to apprehend, anticipate and reinforce positive potential.

Step by step process: 

1. The participants are divided into groups of 5 (1 min)
2. The images are projected on the screen or distributed on each table.
3. The facilitator gives the instruction of looking at each image first and identify the feeling that the student/teacher is feeling in each with one word (provide teachers with the wheel of feelings) (5 -7 min)
4. Each member in the group of 5 refers to a story answering the 5 Ws about an incident that reflect a personal positive experience in the student/teacher interaction and that highlights any of the positive feelings presented in the pictures. (10 -15 min)
5. Each group chooses one of the stories told among them.
6. Each group writes a story using the 5 Ws on the first set of “positive feelings”- highlighting the “Why” feeling behind it and the role of the teacher in the story (5 min)
7. Present the other set of negative images and identify with one word the predominant one word feeling of students and teachers involved. (Use the wheel of feelings) (5-7 min)
8. Write a story in teams answering the 5 Ws ( Who, What, Where, When, Why, How), and highlighting the role of the teacher in the story and the why behind the negative feeling. (5 min)
9. Share different real life stories with the whole classroom. ( choose two from the different groups) (4 min)
10. Facilitator ask about the difference between sympathy and empathy. ( 2 min)
11. Put on the video about sympathy and empathy and the difference between them. (3 min)
12. Discuss what could have been done differently/better in the second set of stories to turn the experience with the students into a positive one if empathy was applied. (5 min)
13. Provide another A3 to each team
14. Highlight the essence of empathy in each different story and synthesize the little steps to be taken as a commitment to endorse empathy and compassion in our daily practices with students. Share answers (7-10 min)
+ 10 minutes Evaluation

Materials and resources: 

- Set of black and white negative images
- set of colored images
- laptop
- projector/LCD
- Round tables and Chairs
- Flipchart papers
- highlighters
- Markers and pens


I expect to focus throughout the tool on the following mindsets: the punitive detached mind-set and the committed empathic mind-set that can be achieved with small practices.
The message behind :
- Empathy is based on genuine questions, true listening, and observation of others needs
- Empathy created in an environment of trust ( open conversation and sharing)
- Empathy enhanced through story telling where the teacher is also willing to open up and show vulnerability and humility.
- Empowering students with the ability to understand and express feelings.
- discipline students in the context of good relation and positive reinforcement.
- Consistently living it in our interaction-small committed steps at a time.

Teachers will leave the session reflecting on their own practices, highlighting its importance to build positive learning environment, and feeling encouraged to apply it as a step by step process and a mental/emotional muscle that needs practice.

Notes for further use: 

This tool can be adapted to many different contexts when focusing on the role of empathy and compassion in human interactions.
The images can be always replaced depending on the audience. For instance, if empowering parents to build empathy with their kids, the images can be focused around parent/child relations, etc.
There is also the choice to bring all groups to combine different versions of the stories in one whole story.

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DISCLAIMER: SALTO-YOUTH EuroMed cannot be held responsible for the inappropriate use of these training tools. Always adapt training tools to your aims, context, target group and to your own skills! These tools have been used in a variety of formats and situations. Please notify SALTO-YOUTH EuroMed should you know about the origin of or copyright on this tool.

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