There are two phrases that have echoed perpetually throughout my life: “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and “make your plan, work your plan”. Both of these have been instilled in me by those I love, yet the former is a quote by the late great John Wooden and the other is a token of life advice from my late uncle. With this in mind, I feel that it was no coincidence that the first article of the semester in Developmental Psychology was, “Service-learning and the development of empathy in college students”.
The main purpose of the article was to educate readers on the influence on the social-emotional development of empathy. To me, empathy has always been something that I perceived as a personality trait, rather than a cultivated skill. Wilson writes in reference to the six types of understanding that Wiggins and McTighe (2005) claimed are involved in obtaining new knowledge: explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, self-knowledge and empathy. I witnessed the power of these concepts firsthand when I had my first visit to Muhlenberg Elementary this past Friday. As I walked into her classroom, I was met with the inviting faces of the Mrs. Crosland and her aides, but most importantly, the priceless opportunity to make an impact on the lives of her students and allow them to change mine.
As I spoke to the students (3rd-5th grade), I marveled at how easily we began to bond and how comfortable they were when I helped some of them with their centers. As I talked to them, our conversations transitioned from talking about their favorite centers to their favorite foods, to their dreams and family members. Wiggins and McTighe (2005) define empathy as “the ability to walk in another’s shoes, to escape one’s own responses and reactions so as to grasp another’s” (Wilson, 2011, p.209). Throughout every interaction I had with the students, I felt myself empathizing with them, imagining what it would be like to see the world from the eyes of a 3rd to 5th grader on the Autism spectrum.
Wilson, J. C. (2011). Service-learning and the development of empathy in US college students. Education + Training, 53(⅔), 207-217.