Teaching empathy is not enough

Teaching empathy is not enoughHow Empathy Week aims to build a generation of empathetic leaders

Over 150,000 students across the UK and beyond are set to take part in Empathy Week (24-28 February), a free secondary school resource aimed at empowering ‘a generation of conscious and action-focused youth to tackle society’s toughest challenges.’

Having been a teacher, founder Ed Kirwan saw a lack of even basic leadership skills, confidence and perspective in his students. Empathy Week arose from the need to engage young people and empower them to take action in their own communities.

“Teaching empathy is important but it’s not enough,” he explains, “which is why we’ve designed a programme that allows schools to embed empathy into their community. It also allows students to gain and practise valuable skills such as leadership and resilience as they create their own social action projects.”

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The week includes five bespoke cinematic stories and activities aimed at enabling deep discussion and creative thinking to explore how empathy can create a better world. And it includes experiential and collaborative programmes that can translate empathy into action.

On average, 14-24 year olds in the UK spend over five hours online every day, and are used to consuming video content. So, the team at Empathy Week use engaging videos to educate students about cultures and lives distant from their own, using it to drive discussions and push students into taking social action.

This year, the theme is ‘sporting change’, for which the content has been filmed and curated in partnership with ThoughtBox Education, Slum Soccer, Youth Sport Trust and Tes. Slum Soccer, the focus of these films, is an Indian organisation that uses the power of football to change the lives of young people in slums and underprivileged communities.

The week culminates in a nationwide social action project where students, in groups, tackle a social issue in their own communities. To help students start their own social action projects, they will receive an abundance of resources and guidance. Stand-out projects will be entered into the ‘Young Changemaker Awards’, which take place in June, with the chance for schools to win funding as well as awards to expand or implement their project in the 2020/21 school year.

Empathy Week includes free films, lesson plans, a teacher’s guide and student worksheets. The curriculum is whole-school differentiated into KS3, KS4 and KS5 year groups and is easy for teachers to download and use right away. Teachers often want but do not have the time to produce such in-depth resources around empathy and social causes, or perhaps don’t have the expertise in those areas. This programme aims to have done all the necessary preparation, so teachers can do what they do best – facilitate thoughts and ideas.

Kirwan added: “We need to give students the opportunity to practise empathy and the permission to be creative and express what they care about and why. We want them to take ownership of the projects they design – with the acceptance that if they fail that is also a good thing, so long as they are enabled to learn from it to do better next time. This will create a real and dynamic learning process.”

Visit empathy-week.com to learn more.

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