Empathy Matters in Schools - Improving Student Performance

Rebecca Emerson | Oct 22, 2019

It is clear and easily evident that having social skills like empathy, understanding, acceptance, and kindness have immediate interpersonal benefits. Those who are more approachable, reflective, and have mastered interpersonal relations are generally more popular, more easily engaged, and go further in teamwork environments. However, did you know that empathy matters in learning realms, too? It’s true. Studies show classrooms that focus on empathy and social-emotional learning (SEL) have increased academic performance as well.

What does empathy have to do with achievement in math, science and the arts? When students are in a realm of understanding and acceptance, when they have an environment where they are each encouraged and assisted to see the other’s perspective, they are more willing to take risks. The quiet student in the back of the room is more likely to raise their hand, try out an answer, and attempt vocalizing a solution in group work when empathy increases. In empathetic classrooms, there are less likely to be snickers, teasing, or ostracization when mistakes are made, because in the lens of empathy the learners understand that everyone is learning, and we all make mistakes.

Roots of Empathy (ROE) was founded 23 years ago in Canada and is now taught in 14 countries. ROE places babies in classrooms to help kids learn empathy. For 30-45 minutes once every three weeks, students spend an academic year observing a baby’s interactions with their environment as a safe way to discuss emotions, belonging, and interpersonal understanding. Basically, they are learning that everyone has feelings, and everybody matters. This video shows how the ROE program uses babies as teachers gives students a chance to reflect on themselves, how they react to certain situations and how they treat their peers. Not only does this program increase empathy and kindness, it lowers aggression by 73%. In addition, the ripple effects linger. Increased academic performance can still be measured in ROE students three years later.

At Our Community Listens, we are investing in creating a space for educators to share these tools of how empathetic listening and caring for each other first is making a difference in their classrooms and in their student’s worlds. In order to find out more about our listening revolution, a movement to increase empathy, authenticity, leadership, care, and service, visit our website at Or, even better, join us for our three-day Communication Skills Training, an interpersonal communication workshop aimed at increasing your ability to connect with others in authentic, understanding, and meaningful ways.

Can a baby be a teacher? Absolutely. And for 1,000,000 students fortunate enough to be in an Roots of Empathy program, perhaps the babies are teaching the most important lessons of all.

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