Right At School Blog

Why Empathy Matters

Because empathy is also a skill that can be learned, that means it can (and should) be taught — and everyone in the school community can help.
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By Dr. Dawn Bridges, Vice President of Educational Affairs

Developing empathy is essential for success in school, in careers, and in life. 

Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, or experiences of another person. It helps us: 

  • Build and maintain healthy personal and professional relationships
  • Cooperate with and have compassion for others
  • Assist when others need help or intervene when they are being bullied
  • Create and maintain a positive culture
  • Create a productive learning or work environment
  • And much more…

Developing empathy

Empathy has been defined as both a trait and a skill. According to PsychologyToday.com, “Humans begin to show signs of empathy in infancy and the trait develops steadily through childhood and adolescence.” 

Because empathy is also a skill that can be learned, that means it can (and should) be taught — and everyone in the school community can help. 

The benefits of empathy for students

According to an online resource published by the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “Empathy is a key part of being a responsible and helpful community member at school and elsewhere. … Studies show that when young people have empathy, they display:

  • More classroom engagement
  • Higher academic achievement
  • Better communication skills
  • Lower likelihood of bullying
  • Less aggressive behaviors and emotional disorders
  • More positive relationships”

In addition,
Greater Good in Education states that empathy is important because it:

  • Encourages kind, helpful behavior
  • Creates a safer school culture
  • Fosters positive student relationships
  • Leads to school success

Preparing students for the workplace

Empathy is not only important for success in school; it’s crucial to prepare students for the workplace. A 2021 McKinsey & Company survey found that since the pandemic began, employers have become more focused on interpersonal skills. The survey results “point to a shift in the most important skills to develop, which tend to be social and emotional in nature: for example, empathy, leadership, and adaptability.” 

A 2021 Forbes article cited empathy as the most important leadership skill and detailed how it can drive significant business results. In addition, findings from a Catalyst survey of U.S. employees revealed that empathy boosts innovation, work engagement, and retention. It also showed that empathy from leaders increases employees’ feelings of being respected and valued, and their experiences of inclusion. 

Coming up

In our next post, we’ll explore practical ways to build empathy across the school and district community.

Picture of Dr. Dawn Bridges
Dr. Dawn Bridges

Dr. Dawn Bridges has over 25 years of experience in the fields of education and professional learning, having held the roles of teacher, reading specialist, special education coordinator, principal, and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She has dedicated her career to ensuring that all students have the support they need to thrive in and out of school. You can follow Dr. Bridges on LinkedIn and Twitter and subscribe to the RAS blog to keep up with her work.

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