Effective educators are empathetic experts. The order is paramount: empathy comes first. Empathy is the means by which an expert earns the right to share what they know with students. In other words, passion for students is the necessary first step toward sharing a passion for content. Students will encounter a variety of obstacles with content – disinterest, fear, embarrassment – until teachers communicate their willingness to be with students in the difficulty: You can do this. I’m with you. I’ll help if you get stuck.
Empathy is communicated in atmosphere, words, actions, and reactions. Empathetic educators will create a welcoming environment where students feel comfortable to ask questions and make mistakes as they confront new content. Empathetic educators will remember more than just the names of their students; they’ll take pride in adapting a lesson for a specific kid. Empathetic educators will respect even disrespectful students, will persistently treat everyone like they can learn. This all-encompassing empathy is built with care and persistence.
Empathy continues and meets with expertise in the next phase where content is communicated. An expert educator is intimately familiar with both their audience and their subject. He or she can deftly field the questions of the intellectually curious, as well as break down material for the students who have yet to taste success. At every step, each student is more important than the lesson or the content.