Posted on: 07/06/2024



Yesterday, Thursday 6th June, was marked as ‘Empathy Day’ and many schools across the country have been focussing on ‘empathy’ with their students. Our pupils at St. Helen’s College have all participated in assemblies and activities and the children have been encouraged to start noticing when they are demonstrating empathy and what it feels like. Please take a few minutes to watch this wonderful short animation which the children in Middle and Upper School watched together and then discussed - it is incredibly powerful for adults and children alike!

I have followed the work of ‘Empathy Lab’ for many years and it is most definitely a wonderful resource for adults to dip into if you are looking for a book to support in developing ‘empathy’ in our youngsters.

Empathy Day celebrates and grows empathy's power to create a better world. It shines a light on the role of books in raising an empathy-educated generation.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is our ability to imagine and share someone else’s feelings and perspectives. Research shows it is:

  • a pivotal social/emotional competence: influential frameworks include empathy as a key factor;

  • an essential ingredient in education: it builds the relationships pupils need to learn/feel safe (Settling Children to Learn, Bomber & Hughes, 2013) and

  • a key factor in moral behaviour: Empathy, Justice, and Moral Behavior, Decety & Cowell, 2015

    Empathy is made up of three elements:

  • FEELING: where we resonate with other people’s feelings;

  • THINKING: where we use reason and imagination to work out how someone else feels and 

  • ACTING: where we are inspired to help others, having experienced what they are feeling

For some people ‘empathy’ does not come easy and I am often saddened when I hear of and witness sometimes first hand when adults are not able to demonstrate empathetic behaviours towards each other.  American researcher Brene Brown has spent over twenty years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. You may enjoy this very short video where she explains the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

Parents, teachers, peers, society, and culture affect how people feel about kindness, empathy, compassion, and helping behaviours. Some conditions may play a role in a lack of empathy such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD).  We all have such an important role to play in shaping the young people around us to allow them to be immersed in an environment where empathy and kindness are consistently being modelled and recognised and even celebrated.  

Our school values play an important role in your children’s daily life. Your children are encouraged to think for themselves, understand their place in the world around them, anticipate others’ needs and show confidence, determination, resilience, courage, love, empathy and gratitude.

At Upper School the children will celebrate by taking time to write a ‘values spotter’ postcard and pop it into the values box - these recognitions are then celebrated in assembly. The children do not receive ‘rewards’ for this achievement other than standing up in assembly to gain the recognition of their peers. It is so important that we do not ‘reward’ children with physical gifts for behaving in a manner that as a society we expect. The fact that we take time to recognise the person who has noticed the kind behaviours and acknowledge both parties is reward enough. 

Let’s see if we can continue to embrace and demonstrate ‘empathy’ at home and in school to help our children develop the characteristics and values for them to build a happy, wholesome future.  

Happy weekend.

Ms Drummond