“When we focus on others, our world expands”

My thoughts on this week’s topic of inclusive pedagogy are somewhat all over the map.  I read several resources for this week and found several quotes that have got me thinking.  I’ll show the quotes first, and then make some comments to tie them together:

“Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.” How Diversity Makes us Smarter, Katherine Phillips


“…we all have bias of one form or another (or, likely, multiple forms). The appropriate question isn’t Who’s biased? but What are my biases, and what am I going to do about them?” Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship


“…racism isn’t something that was created by people of color. It isn’t something that is perpetuated by people of color. It isn’t something that people of color benefit from. When I think about solutions to racism, people of color can’t be the only folks doing the work.” Dismantling Racism in Education

At first, these quotes may seem unrelated (other than the obvious thread of diversity).  One focuses on the importance of diversity in teams, one reminds us of how we must deal with our own biases, and one places the responsibility on each of us to recognize how to help others around us.  But what I think connects these three quotes is at the heart of inclusive pedagogy: empathy.  Recognizing the social diversity of a team as a strength leads to a certain level of empathy where we think more carefully about how we act so that we can help others feel comfortable and welcome in our team.  Taking a moment of self-reflection to identify our own biases and make plans to deal with them appropriately requires some empathy to anticipate how our actions might be received by those who we may have biases toward.  Finally, empathy is at work when we take individual responsibility to recognize the inequalities that groups around us may face and use our own social advantages to work toward a better environment for them.

All of this requires stepping outside of ourselves to understand how someone else may feel.  I recognize that this may not be enough to alleviate some of the social injustices in our world today, but I believe that it is a good start for educators.  In a classroom setting, if we can do our best to empathize with our students, show that we care, we can start to help the diverse students in our classrooms to reach their full potential.  One final thought from Daniel Goleman to drive home the theme of empathy:

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”


  • chris says:

    Realizing that we have to take that moment and put ourselves in someone else’s place requires work and thinking. It is so much easier to make it all about yourself. It’s a shortcut, like our biases. Okay, I can’t substantiate that claim, but it sounds right. I know I am guilty of it, because it is a hard thing to do. I like the theme of your post. We have to consider others. Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t nor want to take time to consider things in the eyes of others. What you suggest in empathizing with out students has been a struggle to try, because I easily fall into my biases of thinking underachieving students are being lazy. It is difficult to start flat out believing student’s and realizing their is more to their life than this class; but, like you say, it’s a good start.

    • Kristin says:

      I agree, it can take a lot of work and emotional investment, and I have had my own struggles with this as well. But every effort that we put into using empathy in our classrooms is a step in the right direction, despite all of the times that we don’t live up to our aspirations. So keep trying!

  • Mary Nedela says:

    I love your connection here, and I couldn’t agree more. We are an inherently self-centered society. We are taught to strive and do whatever it takes to make that happen, which often means putting yourself above others. Now, I must say as a therapist I most definitely advocate for self-care and being able to support yourself….but putting your self first is what enables you to be able to give yourself to others; to be empathetic, like you said. It is so crucial that we put ourselves in others’ shoes (as much as we can possibly know) so that we can begin to feel what it might be like. What I find myself struggling with in today’s political climate is getting people to care about other people (which I could go on and on about, but I won’t do that here!). As an instructor, it can sometimes be hard to empathize with students who can be incredibly frustrating. Even more difficult at times is when students share inappropriate biases of their own towards a topic. Those students deserve empathy too, but it can be incredibly hard to give them that if they are perpetuating negativity in the classroom. Self care in these instances becomes incredibly important to manage our own reactions towards students.

    • Kristin says:

      You are definitely right, taking the time to make sure we are in the right place (as you put it: self-care) is essential to being able to work well with others. And I also agree that it is not always easy to empathize with students who are putting up barriers or who are antagonistic. We won’t be able to reach everyone, but I think that our efforts will generally help the students feel welcome in the classroom and will help us become better educators.

      • A. Nelson says:

        What Mary said (and Chris). I think your quotes fit together really well. And you are absolutely right about the need for empathy and how challenging it can be to get there. I’m also dwelling a bit on the last one (from the Heinemann podcast), which suggests that beyond empathy, we owe it to each other to confront and confound systemic biases (like racism) — in the name of self care if for no other reason. Racism harms everyone and white people have to do some heavy lifting if things are going to improve.

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