How ’empathy interviews’ help us cope with COVID

Administrators should give their teachers and other permission to 'feel anxious'
By: | September 18, 2020
This fall, some educators may also need help from administrators to regain confidence that was shaken in the spring by the sudden shift to online learning. GettyImages/Halfpoint Images)This fall, some educators may also need help from administrators to regain confidence that was shaken in the spring by the sudden shift to online learning. GettyImages/Halfpoint Images)

Some administrators are keeping tabs on the entire community’s social-emotional wellbeing by having their staffs conduct regular “empathy interviews” with students and their families.

Every member of the school staff is assigned a cohort of families to contact to determine who is dealing with health problems, financial strains, or other difficulties, says assistant professor Christina Cipriano, who has studied the social-emotional impact of the pandemic on educators as the director of research at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

This takes the pressure off of classroom teachers from trying to stay connected with 20, 30 or 50 families.

It also gives all members of a school’s staff a role in decision-making during a time when some employees are feeling left out of the process, Cipriano says.


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“If you’ve got paraprofessionals, teachers aides or instructional assistants who are feeling uninvolved while your other educators are overwhelmed and anxious, this is another workforce that can be leveraged to support your community,” she said. “It provides a great opportunity for everyone to feel connected.”

Administrators should also give their teachers and other permission to “feel anxious,” adds Marc A. Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a co-creator of the “RULER Approach to SEL.”

Administrators can encourage teachers to counter negative, “catastrophic” ways of thinking with more positive ideas. This helps to create an environment where teachers can express their emotions, but feel like the entire school community is facing challenges together, Brackett says.

“Instead of telling themselves nothing’s going to work out, they can say, ‘I’m do everything I can to stay safe: I’m practicing social distancing, I’m wearing a mask, I’m washing my hands,'” he says. “They can tell themselves that the data says when you’re really careful, the risk is really low.”

This fall, some educators may also need help regaining confidence that was shaken in the spring by the sudden and challenging shift to online learning, Cipriano adds.


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“They’re feeling like they knew what they were doing prior to the pandemic and when the pandemic occurred, it wasn’t necessarily their best foot forward,” she says. “Now, they’re getting questions from parents, they’re being challenged in social media and teachers are not being presnted in the best light.”

This means leaders have to find regular opportunities to check in on their teachers and show trust in the educators who are now working to make online learning a success.

“They’re stressed and overwhelmed but they want to feel confident, safe, and supported, and that’s important for leaders to know,” Brackett says. “We can simultaneously experience pleasant feelings and unpleasant feelings at the same time. We can be anxious about lots of things but we can also be excited about being back to teaching, learning and leading.”


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.