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The Art of SEL, Episode 7: How do we Teach Empathy?

In episode seven of The Art of SEL, Jonathan and his guests discuss the idea of empathy and the value of being empathetic. But how do we help students understand the feelings and experiences of others? How can we teach empathy? Jonathan welcomes on author Amanda Morin as well as one of his former students to discuss their experiences with the arts and how those experiences can foster an empathetic life.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Transcript

Jonathan: Who doesn’t love an arts festival? Strolling along a street lined with tents, each tent a window into the creative minds of the artists assembled there. Artists working with diverse media from unique contexts, looking to share their perspectives with the world, and hoping to make a living while doing so.

In Columbus, Ohio the week of the arts festival undoubtedly also means rainstorms. It’s inevitable. For several years I worked the hands-on art making tent with other art educators, and there was this one particular year that a heavy downpour snuck up on all of us. Rain, lightning, people running for cover under their tents, hoping it would pass. From our crowded tent of soaked construction paper and markers, I watched as one artist’s tent was picked up and tossed in the air with her artwork crashing to the street as water began pooling around it. I’ll never forget the way she struggled, grasping for her artwork in that storm, as safety personnel tried to get her to a safe space. As lightning became more prevalent and her art was dashed across the street.

As artists and art educators, we know that her art was a labor of love, that it was an expression of herself, and also the amount of money that went into making each piece. Her tent, the registration for the festival, and the loss of earning she could’ve made. My heart ached for her. It still does any time I attend the Columbus Arts Festival. I think about that day as if it were a scene from a movie. It was filled with empathy for this artist.

Hi. I’m Jonathan Juravich, and today we’ll be discussing empathy on this episode of The Art of SEL.

Many years later I had a new friend. And the topic of the Columbus Arts Festival came up. I shared that story. And as it turns out, the very friend I was talking to was the artist I had observed and ached for that day.

Empathy. It isn’t its own competency, but it is a theme that has run through almost every conversation we have had throughout this podcast. There are lots of discussions amongst educators questioning how do we teach empathy or can we teach empathy? This was actually the topic of a TED Talk I delivered titled How Do We Teach Empathy? In the talk I assert that we must start with awareness before we can have empathetic actions and reactions. But you can check that out later.

What I have found is that it’s important that we start with a definition that’s easy for everyone to understand before we can have conversations with students and amongst ourselves. A definition I use with my students is understanding the experiences and feelings of others. I know that the phrase walk in someone else’s shoes is often used. But when we use these metaphors, do we actually confuse others we’re hoping to engage? Does a kindergartener take this phrase literally instead of considering what someone else’s experiences may be?

There are such beautiful possibilities for exploring empathy within art education. Today I’m going to talk to author Amanda Morin who wrote the book What is Empathy?, and then I will touch base with one of my students from my first year of teaching who’s now graduating from college. I want to know how the arts helped foster his own empathetic life.

Amanda Morin is the author of the kids’ book What is Empathy? and other titles. Based in Portland, Maine, she is the Associate Director of Thought Leadership and Expertise at Understood. Visit understood.org to learn more about this organization that is dedicated to shaping a world for those that learn and think differently to thrive at home, at work, and at school.

Amanda, if you could choose one descriptive word to kind of express how you’re feeling right now in this moment, what would it be?

Amanda: Introspective.

Jonathan: Wow.

Amanda: I feel like we’re in an in-between phase of things right now. I know I have a son who went off to college. I have one who’s starting middle school next year. I have a daughter who just turned 25. I’m just sort of introspective and thinking about what comes next.

Jonathan: So I know the topic of your book is what is empathy, but what is empathy to you?

Amanda: Empathy is such a complicated term. So for me when I talk about empathy, I think about it as a way to connect with other people, and it’s a way to connect with other people thinking about their perspective, thinking about how they feel, and taking yourself out of the picture in a lot of ways. So I think it’s about perspective-taking and it’s about feeling with somebody instead of for them. And I think we get those mixed up sometimes.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Amanda: Yeah.

And I think the way we talk about it matters, because when we talk about empathy is like walking in somebody else’s shoes or seeing through somebody else’s eyes. We’re not actually talking about how we let them have their own experience and be there for them.

Jonathan: Even that walk in someone else’s shoes, we’ve had all these crazy conversations here about first graders and kindergarteners. And when you say walk in someone else’s shoes, they’re like, “Why am I putting on someone else’s shoes,” because they take everything so literally, right?

Amanda: Of course. I mean, right, right. We give kids these things that we think are like such nuggets of wisdom, and don’t realize that they’re actually thinking about them very literally. I think from an artistic perspective too, I love to see how kids would draw that, what does walking in somebody else’s shoes look like to them versus look like to us, right?

Jonathan: Right. Oh, that would be fascinating. Because yeah, I think that that’s interesting as you say, like we have to be mindful of how we use these words and how we define them. I mean, we have to remember that we are speaking to children that start off thinking about things quite literally because they don’t have that initial capacity for these metaphors.

Amanda: And that’s part of empathy, it’s building that vocabulary, giving them that emotional vocabulary to express different ways of thinking and what’s on their minds and those kinds of things. So can’t expect them to be there immediately.

Jonathan: Well, and I love the notion that empathy includes being curious and kind. And how can we encourage these attributes in our students to be curious and kind?

Amanda: I think curious is the harder one. I mean, I think kind, kind is a matter of making sure that we tell kids to think about other people’s feelings, to treat people in pleasant ways. But curious is a different thing, as kids are very self-centered. The same thing they’re like growing outward. Their world starts with them. And so what they’re curious about to start with is what does this mean to me?

So when we talk about curious, I always kind of talk about it as being a detective. We’re going to be a detective, and you want to be figuring stuff out about somebody else. And it’s a really good way of getting kids to understand the idea of curious, is what is it you want to know about somebody else? And if you were putting that story together or that puzzle together about who this other person is, what do you need to know and how do you find that out?

And so I think it’s really how you phrase it and start talking about it as opposed to you really need to know things about somebody else. It’s more like what do you want to know about them in order to understand them better? And I think the way to flip that too is what would you want them to know about you. What is it that curiosity looks like the other way? What do you want people to know about you is another way to inspire curiosity too.

Jonathan: Being a detective. And I think about even the artists that we learn about within our art rooms and having this opportunity to say like, yeah, instead of just taking it face value, the things that I’m reading to you or the things I’m sharing with you, to really understand them as a human, you would need to be curious sometimes to be able to investigate, yeah.

Amanda: And that investigation is such a key component of it. What’s behind all of this? And I think that’s the question we want kids to explore always. I mean, I think in art rooms we definitely want them to explore this, what’s behind this? Then I think it’s a really good thing to play out in art rooms with art educators because you can start with the kid themself and say what’s behind the art you just created, and then go to the person next to you, what’s behind the art they just created. Or you can start asking those questions and model curiosity that way.

Jonathan: Well, in your book you focus on empathy through a lens of identifying and then hopefully stopping bullying. With the topic of bullying being such an often misused word because it is, it’s thrown around sometimes, how can we refocus our efforts into helping students seek to understand and value each other?

Amanda: It starts, in my mind it starts with defining the word bullying. And I think you’re right when you say it’s thrown around, it’s misused, it’s sort of used like lumping all sorts of things together. And I think in the book I have an intro for parents and I have an intro for kids. And one of the things that I say in both of them is, “If your body is feeling threatened or harmed, talk to somebody immediately.” And that’s brilliant. And so I think that’s a very clearcut situation.

Then there are the situations where kids misunderstand things, and it’s teasing. Really there’s some kids that communicate through teasing and they’re just kind of like teasing and like, “Hey bud, nice shot,” when you miss throwing the thing into the trashcan. And they’re really trying to communicate with each other. But on the other end of that, if the other child doesn’t know that that’s a way of communicating, we teach them sort of the difference between teasing and bulling sometimes, and respect their perspective on it, because if a child is being teased and it feels like bullying to them, that’s okay.

But I think it’s a matter of really breaking down the fact that when somebody is being bullied, they’re losing something. They’re losing their autonomy of their body, they’re losing their autonomy of their voice, they’re losing their autonomy of their friendships, of their choices. And I think those are ways to talk about this, is do you feel diminished in some sort of way? And I mean that’s a big word. I don’t think I would use that with the younger children. But it’s about how do you feel in the end. Is somebody making you feel like you’re lesser than? And I think that’s a really important concept when we talk about bullying.

Jonathan: Well, I actually think about my seven-year-old who the other day said something about someone being a bully. And because I’m an educator, I took a pause and was like, “Tell me why you would say that?” Because I know that maybe it’s just that kid was having a bad day. Maybe it’s just that you misunderstood, like you said this teasing that they’re trying to like communicate with. And turned it into this really big conversation about how using that term bully evokes so many different feelings from different people.

Amanda: Totally. And it’s interesting. When I wrote the book, my son who’s now 11, I think he was … Goodness, he was 10. I mean, I think it was just about a year ago, 10, 9, something like that. And I ran it by him. And he’s so proud of this. He was my test kid to ask like are these things that kids would actually say, right, because I want to make sure that it resonated with kids. And I do the same thing you do because of course I’m an educator too. We have these conversations that my poor kids half the time are like, “Mom, I’m just telling you a thing.” But I think-

Jonathan: Yes. I didn’t need you to go into this, right?

Amanda: Right. Like, “Don’t teach me. I’m just telling you something.” But what you said is such an important thing. Like what’s the other thing that you need to know about this kid? Like can you think it through? Is English their second language and they don’t understand the words they’re using? Did they just have a rough day? Did somebody say something to them that made them feel them grouchy and they’re just spreading the grouchy around, those kinds of things I think are so important and that’s about the perspective taking. What else could be going on in somebody’s life that isn’t personal to you that they might be taking out in your direction I think is important.

I don’t expect kids to be asking those questions at that kind of level, but I do think it’s important to say, “You remember when you had a really bad day and you were just slamming doors and kicking things? That could’ve felt like bullying to somebody else if they were in the path of them.” Those kinds of things are important to do.

Jonathan: Well, and I’m thinking now about what you said about having discussions about other people’s experiences, even outside of bullying, when we used to go to restaurants, we …

Amanda: Did we? Did we?

Jonathan: Yeah, of like I remember being at restaurants. And so many times we’ve had friends that are like, “Well, I’m not going to give them a very good tip,” right?

Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jonathan: But we’ve had conversations as a family about we don’t understand what’s going on past art table. We don’t understand what’s going on in the kitchen. We don’t understand what’s going on in this server’s life. I mean, who knows what happened before they came or how many tables they’ve had. I’m trying with my own children to have those conversations about we don’t understand. Maybe we never will, but it doesn’t mean that we should diminish that person’s experience either, so.

Amanda: And that’s such a good way of teaching kids to presume good intent. Right?

Jonathan: Yeah.

Amanda: If you presume from the beginning that people are doing the best they possibly can, it’s a good baseline to presume good intent and think that everybody is coming into it with the best of intentions. They may not come out well, how that presents doesn’t always come out well, but if you go into every situation in your life with the perspective that everybody’s out to get you or everybody is being mean for a reason, it’s a very different way of interacting with the world than if you think about the fact that everybody has a life that you don’t know about. And that’s a very hard concept for kids, theory of mind, that ability to realize that there’s other things going on for other people, is such a hard concept.

But I think as educators, we have to start modeling that and talk it out loud. And to be able to say I had a really rough day. I couldn’t find my shoes. I couldn’t get out of the door on time, when we used to go to schools outdoor, like the whole restaurant thing, very similarly. You know?

Jonathan: Yeah. Yeah.

Amanda: Those kinds of things where we can express what does our life look outside of this moment with our students. It’s a good way for them to start thinking about that they can do the same for us. They can have those same conversations with us and say, “Mrs. Morin, I have had a really rough morning and I just need to sit here and be quiet and be contained in myself. Can you just let me do that today,” is important.

Jonathan: Yeah. That leads to the root of all of this, is why is it important that educators, and I guess, specifically art educators focus on fostering empathy with their students? I mean, you and I know it’s important.

Amanda: Well, we do, but we also had conversations about why it’s important because we know each other from other circumstances and other places.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Amanda: And I mean, art educators have this unique way of seeing so many students. You don’t have just one class that you spend time with. And when you have one class that you spend time with, you get to know each other on a very different level and build community in a different way. When you’re an art educator, you’re stepping into a community. These are kids who spend probably most of the day with each other and you’re entering their community.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Amanda: So to start fostering empathy with them is a way to build connection with them. And to understand what their community is all about, and what is it that you can contribute to it, and what can they teach you. And I think that it’s a two-way street there. And when you start looking at kids with empathy, you’re asking them to do the same with you. If you’re going to be respectful of me, I’ll be respectful of you too. But I think it’s really tough when you have so many different students you’re trying to get to know.

Jonathan: Amanda that is … because it’s something we talk about all the time, that we’re building this classroom culture. We’re building classroom community. But really I mean, you’re right. It’s this community that’s coming to us that hopefully the spaces we’re creating, maybe they’re different than the classroom they just came from. But we’re hopefully creating these spaces for this community to be empathetic, to be aware, to make responsible decisions. But hopefully we’ve created that space for the community to exist in.

Whoa.

Amanda: I just blew your mind a little bit there, didn’t I?

Jonathan: No, you actually did, because we don’t often know what happened the other four hours of the day before we are with them. And for these kids that have been, maybe in elementary they’ve been to recess, to lunch, to library, to … they’ve been in all of these other spaces together, they bring that with them.

Amanda: Right.

Jonathan: To our space.

Amanda: And they bring all the interactions they’ve had with each other with them to your space. And the culture you create for them doesn’t exclude those interactions. And I think that it’s a challenge. It makes it challenging for you as an art educator, whoever you are, whatever your role is, I wonder sometimes art on a cart is such a tough way to teach. And I know a lot of people do the art on a cart kind of model.

Jonathan: Right.

Amanda: But I wonder sometimes if it’s easier to come into their community than it is to bring their community to you. Because you get to see sort of what their classroom culture is like. I think there’s value, and I mean, believe me, I have been a teacher, an educator for more years than I’d like to admit. So I know that when I say this, I am really showing the fact that I am hopeful that we can manage these kinds of things. But I think the value of taking time to observe what a classroom looks like outside of your classroom can really be helpful in that. It’s also tough to find the time to do to be honest. Let’s be realistic-

Jonathan: Yeah, right.

Amanda: Right. And just know that. But I think that it’s also important to ask them what’s different between your regular classroom and this classroom, what’s working here, what do you want to bring with you, and those kinds of things are important. And I think that building community is how you build connection, breaking into community is how you build empathy.

Jonathan: Wow. It’s so crazy because it’s … These are things that I mean I guess I’ve thought about, but haven’t spent much time internalizing. They come together. They are part of this community. And you’re right. Breaking into that community is challenging but also critically important as like trying to-

Amanda: And rewarding.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Amanda: And so rewarding. And when they allow you to be a part of their community, what an amazing thing. Just what an amazing thing to be able to say, “I’m one of you now. Thank you.” I think we don’t think about that much, I don’t think. I am not a classroom teacher any more. I’m a teacher of teachers at this point in my career. So maybe I have the ability to think about this a little bit more, because I’m watching how teachers interact in their classrooms. But I think that we underestimate the value of thanking kids for letting us be a part of their lives, because they really are, they really are. And to add another person to their lives is a tremendous thing, and it can serve them so well. But it’s such a trusting move.

Jonathan: But on those lines, so then we as educators, what are your thoughts on if teacher have room to grow in terms of their own empathy skills, not just student empathy but we as the adults?

Amanda: I think we always have room to grow. And I think that empathy is a place where everybody has room to grow. We don’t … The interesting thing is that I think kids are more … younger kids are more curious to start with, and I think as we get older we may lose some of that curiosity, and kind of get into patterns of thinking and those kinds of things where we see something. We see what looks like a behavior or something like that, and we jump to conclusions. And we’re all guilty of doing that.

And when we jump to those conclusions, I think those are the moments where we have room to grow. And it’s hard because you have a reaction. And as the adult in the room, you’re supposed to be able to handle all of it. But you had an emotional reaction because you’re a human. And humans have emotional reactions.

Jonathan: Yeah, yes.

Amanda: Right?

Jonathan: Yes.

Amanda: And I think that that’s a part where we have room to grow, is to be able to have our reaction, but try and have it internally first before it comes out of our mouth or think through how that reaction is going to impact the kid in front of us and that kind of a thing.

I’ve done some work on empathy. I mean I wrote this book, What is Empathy. I’ve also done some work for understood.org on empathy. And one of the things that I created was empathy is sentence starter because it is hard to know what to say to be an empathetic person. So for me, that was an important resource to create for teachers, is to have just sort of these quick tips of how to respond to students with empathy, and it’s things like … This one was super fun for me, like the following the platinum rule instead of the golden rule. So instead of treating people the way we want to be treated, treating them the way they want to be treated, which sort of leads into the questions of how do you want to be treated? What’s important to you in this moment? What do I need to know about you? Those kinds of things are super difficult to do in the moment and to not make assumptions, to ask those open-ended questions.

Jonathan: The empathetic sentence starters, I am like the number one fan. I’ve bought the t-shirt. I am like, I got a mug that says I heart the empathetic sentence starters. No, I don’t, but I should get one. Because I have shared them with almost every educator that I come into contact with. And because I think for me what it taught me is that, here I am, a person who gives presentations on empathetic cultures or environments that we create in our classrooms, and yet, I am not always the most empathetic individual. We can’t be, right?

Amanda: No.

Jonathan: We do have these reactions.

Amanda: Right. Right. And we just … Those same reactions make us want to jump into fix-it mode. When we see a child who’s struggling, you want to fix it for them. But sometimes we need to not fix it. We need to just understand it better.

Jonathan: Yes.

Amanda: One of the things I’ve learned with my own children, is to ask the question do you want me to listen or do you want me to give advice, or do you need a combination of both? Right? And sometimes the answer is, “I just need you to listen to me vent.” And I’m like, “Okay, I can do that. I just needed to know,” right?

Jonathan: Yes. What you just shared though, and I have to tell you, we didn’t plan this, that is actually a phrasing that I use with my friends and with my family, like grown adults. I say, “Do you want me to listen to fix it or do you just need someone to listen?” Because I’m a fixer, that’s what I like to do. But you listen differently whenever you’re told, “I actually don’t need you to come up with scenarios. I don’t need you to come up with a way to fix this. I just need you to listen.” And you do. You listen with more empathy.

Amanda: You’re much more present, because you’re not thinking through, “Okay, what’s the solution to this? What’s the solution to this?” You’re much more able to really … I think listen and hear, because I think they’re two different things. You can listen to the words that somebody’s saying to you, but you can also hear the meaning behind it when you’re really present.

Jonathan: Yes. Oh man. I mean, I’m circling back to the sentence starters. For me what’s worked really well because it is hard being art educator seeing them for this limited amount of time, and there’s like 27 kids in the room, is taking the time to go back later to find that student and to say, “Okay, let me go through these questions.” And when I’ve used them, I actually print them out and have them next to me because I need that guidance to help me work through it. And I pick the ones that make the most sense for me and the child, and I love them. Can you tell?

Amanda: A little bit.

Jonathan: Well, the more and more that I think about it, empathy is like this combination of all of these skills and competencies. Because you’ve got this self-awareness, you’ve got the social awareness, you’ve got your self-management and how you’re reacting to things. You’re making responsible decisions. I mean, it’s all of them wrapped into one word almost, one concept. It’s so complicated and beautiful and simple, it’s all there.

Amanda: And it’s mind-boggling because it’s one word.

Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda: It’s one word to describe this emotionally aware state that we can kind of slip in and out of, right?

Jonathan: Yeah.

Amanda: I mean, I haven’t thought about that either. It is. It’s just this. It ties all those competencies together.

Jonathan: Which might be why it’s so hard to define. Because we talked at the beginning like what is empathy. I think maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s hard to define, is it’s layers upon layers of learning and understanding that are all coming together. And maybe that’s why so many people are like, “Oh, just walk in someone else’s shoes,” right?

Amanda: Right.

Jonathan: Maybe that’s why, because it is such a beautifully complicated concept that we’re presenting to students.

Amanda: I just have to tell you I also used to have a t-shirt that said walk a mile in a man’s shoes and then you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have his shoes. And that was it. Like that’s the end of it.

Jonathan: Right. Yes.

Amanda: So I think that the point is we do try and simplify these things that are really complex. And I think they’re complex for adults. I think art is such a good pairing for empathy, because I think it’s a way for us as humans to express the feelings that we have that we can’t always put into words. My art form is writing. So I can put it into words. But if I had to do it in another artistic medium, I don’t think I could. But I think that art rooms are the places where empathy can just be seen all over the place. You’re seeing the inner workings of children’s minds in these like gorgeous, beautiful, chaotic, unusual ways.

Jonathan: Seriously, those sentence starters. Visit understood.org and search for empathetic sentence starters. When you do, you will find an article, a downloadable PDF, and a familiar face.

We’ve talked in each episode about why these topics, these competencies are critically important for us as adults, as well as the students we work with. But how do our students feel about all of this? My first year of teaching, I had a first grader in one of my art classes named Jonathan. I remember the day he beamed when he learned we had the same first name. I later was his middle school track and cross country coach, and now Jonathan [inaudible 00:31:22] is a recent graduate of Pepperdine University with a degree in public relations. I called him to discuss his experiences in the arts and their impact on him as a person.

Jonathan Juravich: Okay, Jonathan, so give me a descriptive word to describe how you’re feeling right now?

Jonathan: I’d say I’m feeling right now as anticipating but like in a good anticipating way, just both societally and personally. I think that’s a good word that really wraps everything into kind of one descriptor. Personally because I’m graduating soon, I’m moving into a new apartment, I’m getting a full time job, I’m kind of like moving into the adult world, so it’s really exciting, and I’m anticipating that. And then just like anticipating just everything right now, like everyone getting vaccinated and the world moving into normalcy and just being able to see friends again. I’m really anticipating and excited about that. So I guess that was two words, but if I had to choose one, it would definitely be anticipating.

Jonathan Juravich: And I’m feeling the same way right now. This anticipation of what’s next, what’s next. But you’re getting a degree in public relations, right?

Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes.

Jonathan Juravich: But you’ve been involved in the arts since forever. But why the arts? Like what about art, music, drama connects with you personally?

Jonathan: Yeah. I’ve always been a big advocate of the concept of self-expression and being able to kind of show yourself through different mediums of art, whether that’s actually painting or music and the drama side of things. And I’ve always been just drawn to the allure of just being able to express myself. Sometimes I have feelings or emotions that I don’t necessarily have words and I’m not able to kind of adequately express, or I try and find the words but I just, they’re not coming across how I want them to come across. And so I feel like a lot of times just different forms of self-expression through art are good ways for me to kind of get that energy out and kind of get out what I’m trying to express to others when I can’t put into words.

So I can do that a lot of times. Through high school I was really big into painting. And then senior year, just I don’t know when but the very end I decided to join the theater program. So that was a lot of fun too, to just be able to build those connections.

But yeah, I just think the ability to kind of draw out these deeper emotions, and also a lot of times through art I feel as though people are able to kind of going hand in hang of what I just said, be able to kind of figure more out about themselves that they might not have been able to do in another setting, just even talking to people, they might feel a little uncomfortable, but if it’s just kind of like you and your specific canvas you’re working on, it’s really easy to kind of be authentic and be truthful about yourself. And I feel like that was a lot of through school what was able to give me kind of a deeper understanding and deeper comprehension into who I was, and was then able to make me feel more confident and be able to make connections with others easier just because I could connect with others because I knew who I was and who I was bringing into the relationship and the situation.

Jonathan Juravich: Well that connection with others makes me think of our topic of empathy, right?

Jonathan: Yeah.

Jonathan Juravich: So how did the arts specifically engage you as a student to be empathetic? I mean you are an empathetic human, but how have the arts helped you with that?

Jonathan: Well, specifically connecting to other students, I think being able to kind of work on your own personal piece of art and talk about how it’s just so authentic to you, it’s kind of, it feels very vulnerable to be able to express that part too. Someone, especially when you’re sharing something so deep and personal about yourself. I mean every art is different. Some art you’re like it’s just pretty and I wanted to paint it because I pictured it in my head. Other times it was very … Yeah, it’s very like expressionistic of who I am, kind of a deeper level of myself that I can kind of see but haven’t really tapped into just yet.

And in a classroom setting, you’re sitting next to students who are working on the same thing, and something so vulnerable and authentic about them. And you’re in there for a class period together, you’re just naturally going to talk about the piece you’re working on, the piece they’re working on, and you really get to hear kind of the story and the background behind how that essentially came to fruition.

And I think the ability to kind of comprehend and understand their background and their story just allows you to kind of just be more empathetic and really understand who they are. And it’s just a nice opportunity to get to know someone and build that relationship with them.

Jonathan Juravich: You said something that, I don’t know, that I hadn’t though of before but it’s so true. There’s some kids that are working on an assignment where it is just, it’s beautiful, it’s aesthetically great, like it’s something that they’ve thought of and developed. But then there’s the kid next to them who their work is deeply personal, and those kids are sharing space together. And I think we go in and out of it where sometimes we are making something super personal and other times something that is just beautiful. So why do you think it’s important that teachers provide their students with these opportunities to connect and care about other people?

Jonathan: Yeah, well, education is I mean essentially preparing students for the knowledge they need to be adults, at least attempting to instill that knowledge within us. And oftentimes I think of education as just kind of teaching us the math skills, the science skills, and just kind of being able to make a career out of what we’re learning. But if we think deeper about it, I mean essentially these educators are kind of helping to form future lawyers, politician, janitors, teachers, just so many different people who function and help society go round. And being able to kind of connect and care about others is kind of a transcendent tool that no matter what career you have, being able to care about each other is essentially what makes a society function. And any society that is able to care about each other can … they may have diversity in thought or different logics or outlooks on life, but if they can communicate and work through different growing pains as a society, then that’s a society that’s both healthy and also can last a really long time.

So the idea of caring about each other not only creates this environment where no one wants to not be cared about. It’s just what it is. We want to … I want to come to this conversation today and be like, “Oh, my thoughts are valid and you care about what I’m saying. But I also think it’s important for the greater overarching society to just function together.”

Jonathan Juravich: So then, how do you continue to live this life that centers on understanding and connecting with others? I mean outside of the art room, outside of school, how has this impacted your greater existence I guess?

Jonathan: Yeah, definitely. I think it takes … it roots itself in my daily interactions with people, the way you treat people and the way you approach a conversation, no matter what attitude you have. Nor a hostile one or one that’s created a safe space, I think that’s directly going to impact or I know from experience it’s going to directly impact the interaction you have with that person. So if you approach a conversation where it’s non-judgmental and you’re just allowing the person to bring their whole selves to the table and just allow them to our hot topic express themselves and be authentic, then you’re going to have these connections that continue to foster a space of understanding, care, and empathy for each other.

Jonathan Juravich: I really appreciate that you keep coming back to this notion of authenticity, like being your authentic self, but then this idea of empathy as well is allowing other people to authentically be themselves and understanding them and appreciating them for it.

Jonathan: Yeah, I always feel like the art room is a good synopsis of this, just because I feel like no one who finds themselves in the art room together, at least my experience in high school, would necessarily be friends outside of that art room if it wasn’t for having that specific period together, just because, I mean if I’m being honest, half the friends I made through art I didn’t really have too much in common with them. I’m not like, “You don’t really have the same interests as me. You like anime. You play football.” There’s just so many different facets to people where I was like, “Oh, we’re all very different, but the common uniformity that we have is the fact that we have a deeper appreciation for art and the area that can it hold within our life.” And so yeah, I just find that so fun within the classroom.

Jonathan Juravich: Well, I have to say, as the person who is your first-grade art teacher, and now here you are headed into “adult world” as you called it, like I am super proud of this person you’ve become and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Jonathan: Thank you so much.

Jonathan Juravich: It’s true.

So what now? What do you do with this information? Well, here are three things to consider. One, what is one way you can practice empathy in your daily life? Is it how we assume positive intent or don’t jump to conclusions? Or that we spend time investigating? There are simple ways that we can stop and consider the feelings and experiences of others.

Two, do you want me to listen to fix it, or just listen to listen? This phrase is one that we need to normalize. We listen differently when we do. Share this conversation with your friends and loved ones because it matters.

Three, create opportunities for students to learn about one another. This has been a theme throughout each podcast episode, but allowing students the safe space to create and talk and learn about themselves while learning about others is a really great first step for sparking empathy.

And how am I feeling right now? Proud. I am so proud of my former students like Jonathan that are out in the world living lives that model authenticity and empathy. Though they may not choose a path in the arts, the conversations and interactions that take place in our art rooms, in my art room have a formative impact on the adults they are becoming. Okay, now I’m incredibly sentimental.

I hope you’ll join me next time for our last episode as we talk about what happens next. What do you truly do with all of the learning from these conversations and how to start weaving SEL into your artistic context? I do hope you join me.

This has been The Art of SEL, part of The Art of Education University Podcast Network. Tim Bogatz is our producer, and Amanda Heyn is our executive producer, and all of our episodes are engineered by the truly vibrant Amy Juravich. Thank you so much for listening. If you like what you hear, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you want more information on art and social and emotional learning or anything else art education-related, please check out theartofeducation.edu.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.

4 months ago
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