5 Videos to Cultivate Empathy in Students


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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “how do we cultivate empathy in our students? What role do educators play in creating kind and compassionate students?”


Shortly after Christmas, a new student registered and was placed in my freshmen English class. He was quiet, spoke broken English, and wore the face of a person twice his age. Burim, along with his mother and sister, fled the war-torn Bosnia in search of a better place to live. One without bombs, death, and violence; and he, fortunately for all of us, ended up in small-town Iowa. His classmates had no insight into the life that Burim has called normal for the past fifteen years. They woke up in peaceful homes with food on the table before they left in their new car to travel the 5 miles to school. As a teacher, I struggled to find the best way for classroom relationships to form between the refugee and the midwestern students. I didn’t want them to have sympathy for Burim, feeling bad that he witnessed his brother killed before his eyes, avoiding bullets and bombs as he protected his mother at a young age; instead, I wanted the students to have empathy for our new classmate. I wanted them to feel WITH Burim.


“I want students who are not only best in the world, but best FOR the world,” (Erin Olson). The average person spends around 15% of their life in school from grades K-12, that’s about 12 years of teachers, classrooms, learning, and tests. But school is far more than content, learning involves the development of the whole child and as teachers are charged with a hefty task when you consider the quote above. Not only are we charged with educating kids in the areas of literacy, math, and science; but also developing the EQ skills needed to create productive adults and compassionate citizens.

As a literacy teacher, I cultivated compassion in the classroom, for Burim and others, through reading and writing. Storytelling allows students to socially construct feelings and emotions that allow us to feel WITH a person (empathy) not just for a person (sympathy). Empathy and storytelling transport us to another person’s reality, allows us to understand their perspective, and recognize and communicate these emotions. There are endless lists of books for all ages that educators can use in the classroom to cultivate empathy (Great one from Common Sense found here). Technology also affords us a digital form of storytelling through images and video.

Media Literacy has provided new modes for students to construct an understanding of emotions and experiences from people far different from themselves. This ultra-connected age we are living in brings opportunity to foster empathy not only for those close to us but on a global level. Combining the elements of visual, audio, design, images and video are powerful ways for students to empathize with others. It sparks discussion and action. As educators, we can utilize media as a way cultivate the whole child and foster compassionate and empathetic citizens of the world!


5 Videos that Foster Empathy






(This one was created by former students of mine, moved by empathy, wanting to make a difference)

Finally, 16 interactive images which show the realities of children. (Click on the background of each photo)

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Cultivating empathy is part of an educator’s job. There is no test to measure progress or a set curriculum to determine what is taught. Instead, empathy is fostered through modeling, discussions, reading, writing, and creating. And like most things that aren’t measurable on a standardized test, empathy is more important in life and directly impacts the society in which we live!

I love when people share additional resources with me! Here are more videos to consider

Tis’ the Season of Giving – 4 Holiday Activities to do with Students Before Break

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With a week and a half left of school before the holiday break many educators take this opportunity to break from traditional curriculum and design alternate activities for students. I, too, enjoyed providing experiences for my students that focused on community and giving back. And even though academic achievement measures weigh heavily on the minds of us all, it is through experiences in which the whole-child is developed, and empathy is understood that we find great joy and remind us that we not only want our students to be lifelong learners but also caring citizens.

4 Holiday Activities that Have Your Students Giving Back to the Community:

  1. Santa Letters – Each year my AP Literature students “played” Santa as they wrote letters to elementary students. During the Community Holiday Celebration, local businesses had parents stop in and fill out forms for their children describing accomplishments throughout the year, holiday traditions, and gifts their children had asked Santa to bring them. And each year my students would craft letters to each child highlighting the information in the forms. Children shook with glee when a letter arrived from the North Pole and my students beamed with pride knowing they made the holidays a bit brighter. This same strategy could be done by pairing with an elementary classroom and would not have to be a community organized event.
  2. 12 Acts of Kindness – Another activity my students enjoyed was based off the concept of “Paying it Forward”. I challenged students to do good deeds for 12 consecutive days for peers, teachers, family members, people in the community, and strangers. The catch was the deed was to be anonymous and they had to keep a log to share with the class of the things they did and their thoughts and feelings on giving back while receiving nothing in return, and at times, not even recognition that it was them that performed the act. From shoveling a neighbor’s sidewalk, leaving a gift card for a family’s meal, to a positive note left on a car window; students reveled in the experience, were creative in their good deeds, and felt satisfied sharing their good work with the class.
  3. Volunteer As educators, bringing awareness to our students about the different ways one can give back to others through time and sweat equity allows them to make a positive impact as a young person. From bell ringing for the Salvation Army to preparing hot meals at the local shelter, students are eager to make their world better through action. Don’t forget our Furry Friends as well, kids love animals and the Humane Society and local animal shelters are often seeking volunteers to walk and play with the animals.
  4. Adopt-a-Senior – In many communities the nursing home is in close proximity to the school which makes this activity possible. Adopting a Family during the holiday season is a common occurrence, in fact, my National Honor Society kids adopted a family each year and pooled their own resources to help a family in need, but it is also possible to adopt a senior. Many nursing homes have residents who need to be “adopted” during the holiday season for many different reasons. When students form relationships with the elderly much is gained through the interactions. Rich history is passed down, an understanding of the fragility of human life, and a bond and friendship develops. While some residents have specific needs students can purchase and provide for them during the holiday seasons just like they would through Adopt-a-Family, I have found small acts of caroling,Christmasout christmas cards, or simply sharing some cookies and cider makes the largest impact on both the senior and student!   

Thank You for making an impact on children and I wish you and your family a Happy Holiday Season!

For You, My Friend

It is with both excitement and a heavy heart in which I pack for Austin, Texas to attend the Google Teacher Academy next week. And while my #GTAATX cohort is filled with talented educators, uniquely adding their own passions to the mosaic; I can’t help but think of the one influence in my life that will never get the chance to celebrate this experience with me, Jack Moore.


Fifteen years ago, I started my teaching career in a small school in central Iowa, BCLUW.  As I struggled through the first couple years, as most new teachers do, I found my love for the students, families, and staff members grow. I knew I was where I belonged.

I never considered myself a tech savvy teacher, but a shared vision ignited by the district’s technology director (Jack Moore), would forever change my career path. And for this, I am grateful. As I started year six in my career, BCLUW became the fifth school in Iowa to provide laptops to students. A 1:1 environment, enhancing the educational ecosystem, providing rich opportunities for collaboration and creativity; and as an educator, reflecting, refining and evolving to maximize ubiquitous technology.

The leadership in the district, the culture to support risk-taking, and the educators I have met along the way have all defined my journey. And while each person has played a special role in defining the educator I am today; Jack Moore is in need of special gratitude. Unfortunately, his untimely death this summer doesn’t afford me opportunity to thank him in person (but I know his soul is smiling down). So it is with all of you that I share this letter to Jack!

Well friend, can you believe it? This week I will be in the Google Offices in Austin, learning, growing, and sharing all things Google and Education! I wanted to take a moment to personally thank you for helping me achieve this goal of becoming a Certified Google Teacher. 
Sharing a new tool, ordering equipment to support my student projects, unblocking hate sites to recognize fallacies in hate rhetoric, to filming the song exchange with our friends in Sweden; I thank you. 
Never one to criticize, demand, or find fault in my ideas that failed; I thank you.
Celebrating the small victories as well as the large ones; I thank you.
Encouraging me to follow my dreams, to never quit learning, and to embrace the potential I possessed inside to influence young people; I thank you.
And finally, when time came for my career to take a different path, it was your words “Shaelynn, sometimes we need to leave good to do something great,” that provided the reassurance that I was making the correct choice. For that, I thank you!
Thank you, dear friend, I will never forget the impact you have had on my life, as well as the lives of all who knew you!