Character is Paramount: Building Empathy in our Children

The focus on social-emotional skills, including empathy – the ability to understand the feelings and needs of others, is at the core of our TVT mission. 
We know that a high level of compassion has been linked to better behavior, classroom engagement, communication skills, and achievement.

To understand how we build empathy in our TVT Lions, let’s review Michael Borba’s recently published article on the nine teachable competencies of empathy:
  • Emotional literacy – one of the first ways for teachers to teach empathy is to help students read others’ emotions. At TVT we maximize meaningful connections by having students work in pairs and groups, sit in circles and limit screen time in classrooms. We also are beginning our recess and lunch clubs to help students learn to interact and react more positively with their peers through focused play
  • Moral identity – This is students seeing themselves as people who value others. We do this through service projects: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, being a buddy to a new student, grade level buddies with younger students, etc.
  • Perspective taking – This is the cognitive side of empathy, in which we help students take other points of view when they are reading a story, becoming a person in history or even having conflicts on the playground. We ask TVT Lions to reflect (through the TVT ROARS document) on their actions and the parts they own about their peers.
  • Moral imagination – developing empathetic feelings in students through studying an artist’s depiction of an emotion (check out the wire sculptures upper grades made in art with Ms. Wyles) or reading the portion of the week in Judaics.
  • Self-regulation – Our teachers, along with our counselor Miss Ilana, are working with students to learn to manage their emotions and their bodies through mindfulness activities, breathing techniques and even utilizing putty or cubes to calm themselves and stay focused.
  • Practicing kindness – This is teaching children to be more “we” and less “me” oriented: helping them to notice, care about, empathize with, and help and comfort others.
  • Collaboration – teamwork in classrooms and activities at home promotes understanding, builds problem-solving skills, and helps students disagree agreeably.
  • Moral courage – “Upstanders” are the ordinary people who stand up for others and stick their necks out for justice and compassion. We recognize our upstanders during the day to day interactions and through our Mensch of the Month.
  • Growing changemakers – This is making empathy part our mission: being explicit about encouraging students to understand and help others. Our focus on Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) with each grade level selecting specific philanthropic projects, is part of this quest. 
TVT students and staff continue to build our social-emotional skills.
Dr. Michelle Bernat
Lower School Principal

For more information on teaching empathy, see “Nine Competencies for Teaching Empathy” by Michele Borba in Educational Leadership, October 2018 (Vol. 76, #2, p. 22-28)
TVT Community Day School is a TK-12 Independent Community Day School in Irvine, CA
Founded in Loving Memory of Naomi Gelman Weiss