We all know that nowadays our world is dominated by violence, war, conflicts and competition and more and more sensitive children and adults find it difficult to lead a normal life and feel confident and secure. School and education have become great challenges, both for students and parents, and for teachers as well. Empathy and emotional intelligence come to offer a new perspective to our school and students, aiming to help them discover and understand themselves, to manage their emotions, to interact with others, to become more tolerant and to find mild solutions to problems.
We need to teach both empathy and emotional intelligence on the same level of importance as we teach each and every school subject. I am sure that a useful way to do this is through short videos and books, in order to open students’ hearts, to help them understand themselves better, to communicate, to control their feelings and to make emphatic and wise decisions.
Do you remember the last time you watched a good film or read a good book? Were you influenced by it in one way or another? Well, I bet that sometimes we get emotional after watching a film or reading a book, we start to reflect a bit on our lives and ambitions, on who we are, or we tend to focus more on a passion or ability, we reevaluate relationships and probably ways of communication. So, using films and stories in teaching about empathy and emotional intelligence during the English classes may also work well when we want to „touch” our students’ hearts and make them more aware of their own feelings, emotions and thoughts.
I have been using short stories with a moral and also short videos in teaching English ever since I attended a course in England and I discovered film-english.com, a very good source of inspiration for lesson planning. I have had lots of interesting experiences in the classroom, from students who burst into tears while watching some videos to students who even changed their behaviour and became more responsible and serious human beings. Students in a mixed class are of different kinds and here I remember the fable about the animals who decided to organise a school, in order to solve the problems of the new world. Each and every animal proved to be excellent in doing one single „school subject”, while in others, he/she felt frustration, weakness, lack of talent or skill. I think that school nowadays resembles the moral of the fable, in the sense that we demand students to perform well in every subject, not paying attention to the abilities and talents that each of them has. Is there any chance to help students discover the way to themselves and gain an emotional balance? Daniel Goleman, who is the author of several books including the international bestseller ”Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” and also an acclaimed psychologist, explains that Emotional Intelligence is the ability to use emotions effectively and productively, as well as the skill to be aware of, control and ultimately express emotions. This should be taught in schools because students need to feel that they are seen, they are not alone and someone cares about them and he/she is always there to guide and help them.
Once we get to understand ourselves better, we become more capable of understanding the emotions of others around us, as well. We become more tolerant and open to new ideas, solutions, views on things and we start to have friendly arguments with the others. I keep telling my students that their own imagination and creativity can change the world. Using some special books to lead to thematic and interdisciplinary approach, through cooperation, I have been trying to develop students’ long life skills and to help them find a meaning. I have also been trying to teach them how to express and offer kindness, appreciation and love. The videos, fables or short stories that I have found on the internet or in books, inspire me to plan lessons with a meaning.
I remember a short touching video with a heartwarming story that I have used, which is actually an advert for an insurance company, youtube.com/watch?v=1N7PP3yf6no, that teaches us how precious time is and what we can do to help others make time for us. It is about empathy and love and students were really impressed by it. A book which led to many captivating and interactive activities is called “The empty pot”, a traditional Chinese story which is full of moral teachings and proves that courage, responsibility, honesty, integrity always win, despite the fact that sometimes they seem hopeless. Another short video, ”The Other Pair” youtube.com/watch?v=FGh0iduZOJQ, that I have used is on the theme of altruism and empathy, and is based on a real event in the life of Mahatma Gandhi (”As Gandhi was stepping aboard a train one day, one of his shoes slipped off and landed on the track. He was unable to retrieve it as the train started moving. To the amazement of the other passengers, Gandhi took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first shoe. Later a fellow passenger asked him, ‘Why did you do that?’ Gandhi replied, ‘The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use.”) Students were really impressed to see the ending, after I had asked them to predict it.They appreciated it as very moving and I assume it had a great impact on them, as it presented, in only a few minutes, things related to poverty, disappointment, sacrifice, loss, joy, altruism and empathy, selfless choices made by each child in split seconds. Therefore, there are plenty of teaching materials available on the internet or content from books which can help us to teach children about empathy and emotional intelligence in a pleasant and attractive way.
In conclusion, all children need emotional support, advice and guidance to face various challenges and situations that are continually changing. In order to help them develop naturally we need to teach them how to communicate their feelings. We should care more about their happiness and harmonious development than anything else as ”Education is not a preparation for life. Education is life itself.” (John Dewey) and our duty, as teachers or parents, is to ”prepare the child for the road”, ”to pack their suitcase with love, faith and affection”, to add self-confidence and empower them to reach their potential.
Workman, Graham. Popular Films for Language Use 2. Gem Publishing 2008
Goleman, D. Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. New York