By Tanya Livarda (BA/ MA in TESOL, Delta (M3), (CELTA)
Know thyself was one of the phrases that could be found at the entrance to Apollo’s temple at Delphi in Greece. According to Plato, Socrates was the one who had made reference to it multiple times. Socrates puts it in a sense that if you know who you are, then you know your strengths, weaknesses and your limits. Plato viewed it as a way to understand abstract ideas such as justice, love, God, respect (see the Allegory of the Cave). However, since then, lots of people are trying to getting to know themselves and actually they find this to be rather difficult.
Now, imagine our students! In a continuously developing society, where your picture is worth a billions of times than your thoughts or ideas, where everyone can find everything in seconds, where everyone judges and feels judged, I think that we can easily lose ourselves.
After the first quarantine in 2020, I noticed that the most important thing that I wanted to do for my students and myself is to cultivate empathy. Empathy is the ability to identify and deeply understand the other’s thoughts and feelings. It is a form of compassion. It is necessary in order to cope with difficulties, to establish true relationships.
What can we do?
- Start by creating a kindness wall. If you teach face-to-face classes, then you can take a cardboard and let your students stick a kind note/thought/feeling. If you teach online classes, then you might find Google Jamboard useful. You can do that once a week, a month or whenever you feel that your students need it.
- Start your day with today I feel. Let your students identify their emotions and justify these to you, if they want. The first step is to identify your emotions. The next step is to embrace them, understand them and find ways to cope with the stronger ones. If your students don’t want to share these (and that’s ok and totally acceptable) then they can keep a journal.
- Use books or graded readers that enable students to think how the hero feels, why the hero reacted in this way and let them think how they would have reacted.
- Teach them to wait – the power of ‘yet’ (You can watch the relevant amazing TED talk video). Let them write phrases which end with ‘yet’ or ‘not yet’. For example, I cannot talk about it yet.
- Organise international days. You can connect with a teacher from another country and create amazing lessons. Let your students interact with their peers around the world. It is better when you see that you are not alone to this.
- Breathing exercises.
- Role-play games.
- Guess emotions.
It is evident that empathy is not an easy life skill. However, I feel that especially in this time and age it is the most important skill that we can build and develop. Not only for our students but for ourselves as well. It is the first step to know ourselves because in this way we will be able to identify and truly understand the other people’s thoughts and ideas and meaningfully communicate.