Building social and emotional learning (SEL) skills such as empathy requires face-to-face interactions, meaningful discussion, and reflection. Edtech is no complete substitute for that, but there are tools that can supplement the development of character in the classroom and at home. According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

While some tools focus specifically on empathy, the websites and apps that you use daily (in all subjects) can be used to promote perspective taking, too. You don’t have to stop using the tools you love or toss out your lesson or curricular plans to start developing SEL. Below we have included some tips, tools, and actionable ideas for seamlessly integrating empathy and life skills-building into your content classroom.

Why empathy?
Classrooms are complex, collaborative, and diverse spaces. An enriching, engaging, and supportive classroom environment is one in which students reflect on themselves and their peers as learners and as people, full of similarities and differences. A group culture that encourages trust and friendship—that practices empathy—functions better as a whole and can better tackle tough concepts. Some schools are recognizing how impactful empathy can be, like the one in Pennsylvania where students shared their deepest, most painful secrets before 500 of their peers. The leaders of this school believe that events like this—free of criticism or judgment—create openness and understanding rather than discord and isolation. It’s through this cultivation of empathic students that schools become communities.

Check out @CommonSenseEd's recommended #SEL resources for every subject #edtech

Take action

  • Don’t be afraid to tackle hard topics as a class—get students thinking about their similarities and differences.
  • Set high expectations, and find opportunities to help students see how their feelings are connected to behavior.
  • Treat each student as an individual, and use a problem-solving approach when helping them overcome an obstacle.
  • Make sure the technology you use doesn’t take the place of, but instead supplements, face-to-face interaction.
  • Using our Digital Citizenship Curriculum? Both our student interactives and lessons already foster key SEL skills.
  • Use some other excellent SEL resources, including CASEL, Character Lab, Edutopia, and Ashoka.
  • Think about the digital tools you’re already using in the classroom. Can you find a creative way to use them to model empathy? Check out our suggestions on the next page!

About the Author:

Danny Wagner is senior editor, education reviews at Common Sense Education. His focus is on guiding the editorial direction of the Ratings & Reviews platform to discover the best in education technology. In addition to reviewing digital media for learning potential, Wagner produces content and writes articles for a variety of topics, including STEM and social and emotional learning. Previously, he was curriculum technology integration specialist for San Francisco (CA) Unified School District and a science and robotics teacher for a decade in the midwest. Prior to his career in education, he worked as an environmental engineering consultant.


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