Empathy is Needed in Education

For the first time ever, the public schools in Philadelphia began this school year 100% online, neck-deep in a global pandemic; in the midst of more publicized occurrences of racial injustice and political upheaval. We all again juxtaposed the reality of America’s dual system of justice when we witnessed the negligible presence of law enforcement as several thousand, mostly white, violently breached the U.S. Capitol while excessive force was used on Black Lives Matter protesters last spring. Discussions on teaching, learning, and supporting our colleagues cannot be divorced from these realities, their impact on students and staff, and how educators are adjusting their pedagogy to meet our students’ needs during these movements. Rarely are these subjects broached in the meetings I attend as a school-based teacher leader. While it is tempting to proceed with business as usual, many are not as privileged to move on so easily. The trauma of these myriad encounters is real and we must center our teaching and support accordingly. That could mean we extend deadlines or take a few extra minutes to inquire about one another’s welfare. It could also mean listening to the soft sounds of rain for the first 10 minutes of class or adjusting the amount of work we assign. This school year warrants radical leadership and thinking, approaches to teaching, leading, and learning that defy normality. After all, everything else has upended normality! We cannot pretend we are not all at home, witnessing or experiencing the effects of COVID-19, watching or experiencing injustice, or receiving texts from teenagers who are caring for siblings or parents while also picking up extra shifts at work to help make ends meet. We can, however, take a step back and empathize with our brothers, sisters, and children in humanity and co-create paths forward.

Stephen R. Flemming, Ed.D.

English/Communications Teacher/School-Based Teacher Leader

Martin Luther King High School

Corporate Faculty, Harrisburg University of Science & Technology

Adjunct Reading Faculty, Delaware County Community College

(215) 316-7961

P.O. Box 34168

Philadelphia, PA 19101

@kellygrade6 on Twitter

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