Sal Meyers, Simpson College
Brian C. Smith, Simpson College
Compared to students' perceptions of instructor's mindset, students' perceptions of instructor's empathy better predicted belonging, classroom diversity climate, and students' perceived learning gains.
Teacher empathy “is the degree to which instructors work to deeply understand students’ personal and social situations, feel caring and concern in response to students’ positive and negative emotions, and communicate their understanding and caring to students through their behavior” (Meyers et al., 2019). Based on this definition, we predicted and found that students who rate their instructors as higher in teacher empathy perceive greater instructor responsiveness, a more supportive classroom diversity climate, and higher expectations from those instructors. Teacher empathy was a better predictor than teacher mindsets of belonging, classroom diversity climate, and students’ perceived learning gains.
1. Explain and distinguish between teacher empathy and teacher mindsets.
2. Identify the correlates of teacher empathy and teacher mindsets.
3. Identify ways of communicating teacher empathy to their students.
Hear it from the author:
We examined students’ perceptions of their instructors’ empathy and growth mindset in a sample of over 300 college students from across the U.S. Teachers with a growth mindset see all students as capable of mastering the course material given the right type of effort. In contrast, teacher empathy involves understanding and caring about students’ personal and social situations.
Both characteristics are related to a number of positive outcomes, but many of these outcomes were predicted by empathy better than by a growth mindset. For example, the more empathetic instructors were perceived to be, the more students felt they belonged, had a positive perception of the classroom diversity climate, and thought they learned. Perceptions of teacher empathy even predicted better course grades.
Although it’s easy to assume that highly empathetic instructors are less rigorous than instructors low in empathy, students’ perceptions of course difficulty were unrelated to empathy. When rigor is defined as cognitive complexity, more empathetic instructors were seen as more rigorous.
View the poster for ideas for increasing your own empathy as an instructor and ideas for communicating your empathy to your students.
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