Study: Empathy Training for Teachers Could Reduce Student Suspensions

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Exercises designed to help teachers empathize with their students may lead to a drop in suspensions, according to a recent study from Stanford University (CA).

Researchers provided professional development to 31 middle school math teachers. Half of the educators were assigned readings that encouraged them to think about the underlying reasons students misbehave in class. The other half read about how technology can enhance learning.

“Students in the group whose teachers received professional development on empathy were half as likely to be suspended over the course of the school year than students whose teachers were in the control group, and the differences remained significant after controlling for race, gender, and other factors,” according to an Ed Week report about the new research.

A growing body of evidence shows that being suspended places K-12 students at a greater risk to drop out of school and become involved in the criminal justice system.

The experience can also discourage young people from enrolling in college, according to research highlighted in the spring edition of The Journal of College Admission.

Empathy researchers Jason Okonofua, David Paunesku, and Gregory Walton said their teacher training — which was delivered online — could be a cost-effective way for schools to reduce suspensions.

“All kids need supportive, trusting relationship to help them improve,” Okonofua told Stanford’s news service. “Our intervention helped teachers reconnect with those values, who they really want to be as a teacher, and how they want to relate to their students.”

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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