Teacher gathered with students
Teaching with an Empathy-First Mindset: Building Trust and Rapport with Students

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In classrooms, teaching with empathy means recognizing and responding to students’ emotions, perspectives, and needs with compassion and understanding. Empathy is not the same as sympathy; while sympathy involves feeling pity for someone, empathy involves genuinely putting yourself in their shoes and experiencing their feelings.

Teaching with empathy can transform a classroom environment, fostering strong rapport and long-term trust between teachers and students. Students who feel understood and valued are more likely to engage, participate, and thrive academically and socially.


Empathy IS:

  • Understanding: Recognizing and acknowledging students’ emotions and experiences.
  • Compassion: Responding with kindness and a willingness to support.
  • Non-judgmental: Accepting students’ feelings without criticism or bias.

Empathy is NOT:

  • Sympathy: Feeling sorry for students without truly understanding their perspective.
  • Pity: Viewing students as helpless or inferior.
  • Fixing: Immediately trying to solve students’ problems without listening to their concerns.

Building Rapport and Trust with an Empathy-First Approach

When teachers practice empathy, they create a safe and supportive learning environment. This approach helps build rapport and trust in several ways:


  1. Improved Communication: Students feel more comfortable expressing themselves, leading to open and honest communication.
  2. Stronger Relationships: Empathetic interactions strengthen the bond between teachers and students, making students feel valued and respected.
  3. Enhanced Engagement: Students are more likely to engage in learning when they know their teacher cares about their well-being and success.


Responding with Empathy: Examples

Scenario: A student is upset about a poor grade on a test.

Without an Empathy-First Approach:

Teacher: “You should have studied harder. If you don’t put in the effort, you can’t expect good results.”

With an Empathy-First Approach:

Teacher: “I see you’re upset about your grade. It’s okay to feel disappointed. Let’s go over the test together and figure out how we can improve next time.”

In the first response, the teacher dismisses the student’s feelings and places blame, which can lead to frustration and a sense of discouragement. In the empathetic response, the teacher acknowledges the student’s emotions and offers support, promoting a positive and constructive approach to learning.


Scenario: A student is visibly upset and distracted during class.

Without an Empathy-First Approach:

Teacher: “Stop daydreaming and focus on the lesson. If you can’t pay attention, you’ll fall behind.”

With an Empathy-First Approach:

Teacher: “I notice you’re having a tough time concentrating today. Is there something on your mind that you’d like to talk about?”

In the first response, the teacher dismisses the student’s emotional state and focuses solely on behavior. In the empathetic response, the teacher shows concern and a willingness to listen, which can help the student feel supported and understood.

Teaching with empathy is not just about understanding students’ emotions; it’s about creating a classroom culture where students feel safe, valued, and respected. This approach not only enhances students’ emotional well-being, it promotes their academic success and overall development.

Video Resource: "Be a Mr. Jensen"

To understand the powerful effects of teaching with empathy, watch this video titled “Be A Mr. Jensen.” It highlights a student’s experience of being positively impacted by a teacher who embraced an empathy-first approach.

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