November 4, 2021

Creating Psychological Safety in Learning Environments

by Emily Keveryn, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Baptist Memorial Hospital - North Mississippi

Student engagement is often something teachers and educators strive to achieve for lots of reasons — to have students actively thinking about the material and responding to questions, to validate that what is being taught is being understood, and to promote positive attitudes toward the material. But why is there a lack of engagement so common in many learning environments? As a teacher, it may be easy to forget how stressful or daunting the feeling of speaking up in front of a group of peers or instructors is.  For students, this is one of the most common barriers to active engagement in group learning settings. Having an environment where students feel comfortable enough to interact without concerns of sounding silly or being embarrassed is challenging to achieve, especially in very large groups and, conversely, in very small groups too. 

Amy Edmondson, an American scholar of leadership, teaming, and organizational learning, coined the term "psychological safety” to describe “the feeling that one is comfortable expressing and being themselves, and sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment, ridicule, shame, or retribution.”1,2 While Edmondson’s research focuses on psychological safety in teams in business and healthcare settings, many of the ideas and behaviors she observed are relevant to the classroom and other learning environments. It is human nature to want to be accepted, heard, and understood.  And, perhaps more importantly, to avoid rejection, embarrassment, or punishment.  Therefore, fostering a psychologically safe learning environment is critically important and it creates a climate where the material and learning process is engaging, exciting, and lively!

Whether it is in a large classroom, during medical rounds, interacting with an intern on a job site, or in any situation where an educator is teaching something, psychological safety must be present for many reasons.  It encourages learning by making the learner comfortable asking questions when they may not understand the material. It stimulates innovation by encouraging higher-level thinking and understanding.  And it provides a sense of belonging whereby learners feel they can express their thoughts on a subject without being ridiculed or feeling rejected. In one study that addressed psychological safety in a simulation with medical residents in a trauma scenario, researchers found that increased stress impaired knowledge recall and decreased clinical performance.  The medical resident’s performance was measured using a standardized assessment form and a global rating checklist.3 In another study, researchers found that feeling psychologically safe reduced anxiety in nursing students who were participated in simulation activities.  Anxiety was measured by pre- and post-surveys completed by the students.4 While these studies looked at psychological safety during simulation activities, the results strongly suggest that the environment, psychologically speaking, has a significant impact on learners' ability to perform activities, recall information, and feel confident.

Timothy Clark writes that there are four stages of psychological safety that individuals go through that reflect basic human needs: inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety.5 Inclusion safety is the feeling of belonging and being accepted. One way to provide this type of safety is to learn and use students' names, welcome them to the classroom, and include the learner, and listen to their input. This can be challenging when educating multiple learners, balancing the time between each. Learner safety, which may arguably be the most important stage for educators, occurs when individuals feel comfortable asking questions, receiving feedback, asking for help, and even making mistakes. By actively listening and offering gentle, clear guidance, educators can increase learner safety. This stage is especially important when trying to encourage the learner to speak up and not fear retribution. Contributor safety satisfies the need to feel like we are contributing in a meaningful way and making a difference. When a learner feels included and safe to make mistakes, they feel more inclined to contribute and use the knowledge that they possess to make a difference. This builds off of learner safety, which bolsters confidence in asking questions, and encourages the learner to contribute ideas without fear. Lastly, challenger safety encourages individuals to use what they have learned and strive to make things better in the learning environment and beyond. Challenger safety occurs when students feel they can directly challenge the status quo, recommend an idea or a process, without feeling like the suggestion or comment may damage their reputation.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Psychological Safety:



Stay attentive to what is happening and if things seem to be feeling unsafe for some students, listen carefully to understand what may be causing others to feel this way, and ask questions to clarify how they feel.

Don't let uneasiness stop you from discussing what needs to be discussed - if you are feeling uncomfortable, it is likely they are too!

Offer encouragement and support to ensure that each learner knows they are heard and will not be subject to ridicule or embarrassment.

Don’t use sarcasm or emotive language, it can cause others to feel as though we may not be taking them seriously.

Reinforce a conversational culture by making it safe for anyone to talk about anything.

Don’t be defensive or apathetic; it will likely result in the situation continuing and the learner being afraid to speak up again

Psychological safety in learning environments is often something that educators struggle to achieve but is one of the best ways to increase student engagement, interaction, and learning. By role modeling an open and comfortable environment, we are also are fostering the skills within our learners as they learn how to interact with patients and colleagues … and students in the future! Educators need to understand the stages and the ways to create a psychologically safe learning environment to ensure learners get the greatest benefit from the learning process. 


  1. Edmondson A. Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly 1999; 44: 350–383.
  2. Edmondson A. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the workplace for learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2018.
  3. Harve A, Bandiera G, Nathens AB, and LeBlanc VR. Impact of stress on resident performance in simulated trauma scenarios. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 2012; 72: 497–503.
  4. Ignacio J, Dolmans D, Scherpbier A, et. al. Comparison of standardized patients with high-fidelity simulators for managing stress and improving performance in clinical deterioration: A mixed methods study. Nurse Education Today 2015; 35: 1161–1168.
  5. Clark TR. The 4 stages of psychological safety: Defining the path to inclusion and Innovation. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.; 2020.

November 3, 2021

Collaborative Teaching: One Way to Improve Teaching and Learning

by Giang Le, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle

I came across this interesting article the other day entitled “Teacher collaboration in curriculum design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions.”1 This article got me thinking about my years in school. I recall only a few class sessions that had two or more teachers providing instruction together. For many courses, students are essentially learning from one teacher’s perspective — which is to say, one person’s perspective. Students might assume that what that teacher says is accurate and that piece of information must be the best answer.  I’m not sure that’s always true.  From the teacher’s perspective, I wonder if they get bored teaching the same materials every year? Do teachers ever get so used to their way of teaching that they become reluctant to change? Or unaware of the need to update their content or instructional methods? Maybe teachers need a partner. Maybe instruction is better when taught by a team. Indeed, there is evidence that collaborative teaching can help teachers update their knowledge, improve their practice, and enhance learners’ outcomes.1,2

What are collaborative teaching design teams? These teams involve educators working together to design all classroom activities, including developing a curriculum, selecting the most effective teaching methods, creating test questions, and developing tools to assess performance. An essential part of being an educator is to continue to learn – not only about the content but also ways of teaching. However, it can be hard to keep up with all the newly available information, especially when there are thousands and thousands of scientific articles published every day. In the process of balancing work life and personal life, teachers can find themselves in situations where they quickly skim an abstract or a summary. Teachers often rely on their existing knowledge and beliefs to develop learning materials. This is when collaborative teaching can be of benefit. Having people with different knowledge, skills, and perspectives on a team creates more opportunities to share knowledge.1 If a conflict arises (a conflict of ideas, not philosophies or personalities), teachers will have to provide evidence to support their reasoning and convince their peers. In this process of solving “constructive” conflicts, teachers begin to self-reflect on their existing knowledge and their ways of practice. Self-reflection is a critical and we should practice it every day, but it is always easier said than done. Collaborative design teams create the opportunities for constructive conflict and stimulate self-reflection.

One may agree that collaborative teaching can improve teachers’ knowledge, but the more important question is: Can it improve learner outcomes? That’s the ultimate goal that every educator should strive to achieve — improvements in students performance. This means that at the end of the course, we want our students to not only understand or recall but also be able to apply the materials in a variety of circumstances. Theoretically, all teachers should have a tool to assess the students’ performance to guide their teaching. With collaborative teaching design teams, teachers can work together to create these tools. Everyone can contribute based on their experience and what’s available in the educational literature. 

In a recent study, the investigators examined three specific forms of collaboration in teaching: (1) instruction-related, (2) project-related, and (3) organization, performance, and problems-related. Their study is a secondary analysis of the German Program for International Assessment (PISA) data. A sample of 869 schoolteachers was matched with a corresponding sample of 869 students. Students’ achievement in this study was measured by comparing their grades in the first half-year of the academic period. The relationship between the different forms of teacher collaboration and student achievement was estimated through a structural equation model. They found that the third form of collaboration—modified teaching based on students’ performance—positively influenced students’ achievement. However, an interesting aspect of this study was that the subject matter taught were primarily sciences (like maths, biology, physics, and chemistry). This might explain why the third form of collaboration focusing on practice problems would produce a positive outcome. In other subjects involving more discussions and debates, the knowledge-sharing and planning process might play a more important role.

Collaborative teaching design teams can theoretically improve other aspects of the learning process. For example, I remember when my class was divided into groups to do group assignments. From time to time, the professor would be occupied with one group and unavailable to others. This quickly led to frustration among students who had a hard time understanding the materials. Instructions that may seem easy to follow for the professor might not be interpreted the same way by the students. To finish the assignment within the class period, the students would turn in poorly done work and minimal learning occurred. Collaborative teaching would give students greater access to more instructors. This benefit also applies to practical labs where one professor cannot supervise the whole class to ensure everybody follows the instructions.

How do we implement effective collaboration? This process can be time-consuming since it requires team members to gather, discuss, and revise the course materials. A course may need to be developed a year in advance and regularly revised based on students’ feedback and performance. Another strategy for effective collaboration is to allow time to build relationships and foster a culture of trust, respect, and humility between the teachers on the team.3 It is best if each team member is willing and able to contribute in meaningful ways to the work of the group. Here is my favorite quote about teaching collaboration: “As a successful co-teacher, you need to (a) know yourself, (b) know your partner(s), (c) know your students, and (d) know your ‘stuff’.”4  Teachers will vary in their ability to effectively collaborate. Some may find it hard to work with partners who have different beliefs and teaching styles.  Others may find it hard to assess how well the students understand the materials. If teachers know their strengths and weaknesses, they can complement each other and support one another. While team teaching can be great, forcing collaboration when teachers are not on the same page will create more classroom confusion and negatively affect learners’ outcomes.

Collaborative teaching is an ongoing process with evidence that it can improve teachers’ and learners’ outcomes. Teachers may find the collaboration not only a beneficial way to enhance their knowledge but also an opportunity to update what and how they teach.  Like any form of collaboration, the process will take time, effort, and commitment to achieve success.


  1. Voogt JM, Pieters JM, Handelzalts A. Teacher collaboration in curriculum design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions. Educational Research and Evaluation. 2016; 22: 121-140.
  2. Mora-Ruano JG, Heine JH, Gebhardt M. Does teacher collaboration improve student achievement? Analysis of the German PISA 2012 sample. Frontiers in Education. 2019; 13: Article 3389. (Accessed 2021 Oct 12).
  3. Lauren D. Teacher collaboration: how to approach it in 2020. Schoology Exchange. 2020. (Accessed 2021 Oct 12).
  4. Keefe EB, Moore V, Duff F. The four “knows” of collaborative teaching. Teaching Exceptional Children. 2004; 36 (5): 36-42.

October 26, 2021

Listen, Clarify, and Appreciate! Best Practices When Receiving Feedback

by Camron Jones, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Magnolia Regional Health Center

 “It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it and appropriately act on it”
-Stephen Covey.1

What do you feel when you hear the word feedback? Do you feel nervous?  Perhaps scared about what the person might say? Do you clam up thinking you have done something wrong? I have a love/hate relationship with feedback. I love knowing how I am performing.  But I sometimes fixate on the things I did “wrong.” It can be intimidating and sometimes we get stressed out about the small things. For many people, it’s hard to accept feedback because it’s perceived as a negative judgment. I have grown to appreciate feedback because it helps me understand what I am doing well and what I need to work on. I think it’s intimidating to ask for feedback. This is something that I am working on. Not only is feedback hard to ask for, but it’s hard to give.

Feedback is the act of someone providing information about a person’s performance of a task and the recipient using the information as a basis for improvement.2 Frequently we talk about how to formulate feedback so that we can help another person excel. But receiving feedback is a critical skill too. All of us need to learn to receive feedback graciously and not jump to conclusions. Both giving and receiving feedback are difficult! If we use the right techniques, we can learn as well as teach others. Let’s take a deep dive into receiving feedback by examining the best practices and how to teach it.

There are three crucial steps that should be adhered to if we want to maximize the benefits of receiving feedback. These include actively listening, clarifying the feedback, and expressing gratitude.3,4  Listening with an open mind is a huge part of the feedback process. Listening promotes our personal and professional growth. Too quickly we jump the gun and interrupt the person providing the feedback. In the Christian Bible, there is a saying that resonates with that I believe applies to receiving feedback: “..let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” When receiving feedback, we must consider all of it before responding. Reflecting on the feedback is so important because it helps us grow.

When you hear words that you interpret as negative it can bring you down. But it’s important to ask questions because without getting clarification, you can create an injustice and take feedback too personally. The feedback is about your performance, not about you as a person. I feel like this is critical to understanding how to receive feedback. The person giving the feedback is only trying to help us succeed and grow.  If we dismiss or reject the feedback, we are disadvantaging ourselves.  So, ask clarifying questions!  Make certain you fully understand what the person giving the feedback is telling you. Ask for specific examples.

Finally, it’s important to express appreciation to the person providing the feedback. Remember, the person giving the feedback is usually uncomfortable.  Giving feedback and telling someone something they might perceive as negative can be intimidating. It's easier just to not say anything.  Or to tell someone everything is perfect. But the person giving feedback took the time to carefully consider how to help you improve and they want you to succeed! If we show appreciation, they will feel encouraged and more willing to share with us. 

Tips for Receiving Feedback:3

  • Be a good listener
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification
  • Embrace the feedback session as a learning opportunity
  • Remember to pause and think before responding
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions, and show that you are invested in the learning process and keen to improve
  • Think positively and be open to helpful hints
  • Learn from your mistakes and be motivated
  • Be a good sport and show appreciation
  • Be proactive – ask for feedback!

Studies have repeatedly shown that effective feedback has a powerful influence on how people learn. In one study involving medical students, they looked at methods to teach how to use feedback. They developed a 2-hr workshop that focused on writing goals in a learning contract, defining effective characteristics of feedback and practicing the use of feedback in response to feedback received. Following the workshop, student group scores increased significantly. They also looked at how coaching improved students' perception of their feedback skills. They noted how students' feedback interactions improved, especially during informal interactions. In a model that defines the communication pathway, they described how the process of feedback could falter. This could be due to previous experiences from the receiver, also the fear of damaging relationships between the giver and receiver.4

Another study enrolled second and third-year internal medicine residents. This study focused on a One-Minute Preceptor model. This was a conversation between the resident and the teacher to help improve the resident's clinical skills. One of the greatest benefits of the One-Minute Preceptor model is feedback. At baseline, feedback was ranked as one of the weaker areas. Significant improvements were reported at the end of the study. Feedback was shown to have the greatest impact on performance.5 

Another good resource is the ask-tell-ask feedback model.6 For example, say you are a student, and you provided education to a patient about anticoagulation therapy. With the first ask, the preceptor asks the student to talk about how they thought the experience went. The preceptor then gives feedback on what was observed, both positive and negative aspects of the performance.  This is the tell component of the model. During the last ask, the student then reflects on what the preceptor has told them and they both set goals moving forward.6 This allows the receiver to actively participate in the conversation and formulate an action plan. I personally experienced this method of feedback in my last year of pharmacy school. Not only did it help me improve, but it also helped me be more open to feedback.

As teachers, we must learn to give feedback in a way that positively affects our students. We should allow students time to self-reflect before giving feedback. This gives the students an opportunity to think about the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. As a learner, we must learn from the feedback and use it as a tool for us to improve. Be sure to listen, clarify, and appreciate!


  1. Covey, SR. Stephen R. Covey interactive reader-4 books in 1: The 7 habits of highly effective people, first things first, and the best of the most renowned leadership teacher of our time (Internet). Mango Media. 2015 (Cited 2021Oct1)
  2. “Feedback”. dictionary, merriam-webster. (Cited 2021Sept29).
  3. Hardavella G, Aamil-Gaagnat A, Saad N, et. al. How to give and receive feedback effectively. Breathe 2017; 13:327-333. 
  4. Bing-You RG, Bertsch T, Thompson JA. Coaching medical students in receiving effective feedback. Teaching and Learning in Medicine 1998; 10(4):228-231. 
  5. Furney SL, Orsini AN, Orsetti KE, et al. Teaching the one-minute preceptor. J Gen Intern Med. 2001;16:620-624.
  6. Jug R, Jiang X, Bean S. Giving and receiving effective feedback: a review article and how to guide. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2019; 143 (2):244-250.

October 19, 2021

The Flipped Classroom Model in the Age of Virtual Learning

by Emily Plauche, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Virtual learning played a huge role in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020 when the pandemic first began to spread in the United States, educators had little time to transition to an online learning environment. Some schools gave students a few weeks off to allow time for administrators and teachers to make plans and learn how to use the technology while others immediately transitioned to an online platform with little guidance. Virtual teaching can be done synchronously via platforms such as Zoom and asynchronously using pre-recorded lectures or other online resources. Live classes allow for more interactive learning but may be limited by technical difficulties and students’ access to technology. Pre-recorded lectures provide students with more flexibility in terms of how and when they prefer to study, but students may feel disconnected from their classmates and instructors.1  In order to best recreate the flipped classroom model, asynchronous pre-class assignments with synchronous/ live in-class activities would be ideal. Now that the education system has had more time to adapt and is able to provide almost all features of an in-person classroom experience in a virtual platform, it raises the question of whether the flipped classroom model is still effective in a virtual learning setting.  Giving students the option to attend class in person or online may become common practice as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, technology advances, and our comfort with virtual learning grows. 

The flipped classroom model is a somewhat new teaching strategy that focuses on in-class application, rather than lecturing. Instead of homework after class, students complete pre-class assignments in order to prepare for class and class time is reserved for discussions, case studies, and other activities that require students to apply what they learned prior to class. The flipped class has become increasingly popular over the last decade. A meta-analysis studying the flipped classroom model in health professions education found that the model provided several benefits including a statistically significant improvement in learner performance compared with traditional teaching methods, more time for active learning during class time, and the opportunity for students to study at their own pace before class. The analysis also found that more students favored this method of learning over traditional lecturing. However, this model requires students to prepare ahead of time in order for the activities in class to be productive. The increased burden on the student can be a limitation to its success and should be considered when teachers assign out-of-class activities.2

Traditionally, pre-class assignments are done remotely via pre-recorded lectures and required readings, and the interactive classroom activity is done in person. However, COVID-19 required all learning activities to be done virtually. Educators wanting to implement this model while teaching virtually should provide both pre-recorded lectures and live but virtual classes in order to effectively mimic the model. The question is whether a flipped classroom model is still effective in an online learning environment. A study performed in Spain specifically compared performance and emotions towards the flipped classroom model in undergraduate STEM courses before and after the COVID-19 pandemic comparing two groups: “face to face” and “face to screen.” The course consisted of three hours of live class with pre-recorded lessons to watch in preparation for class in both groups. The instruction methodologies, syllabi, and structure were identical in both groups. The study did not disclose what type of assessments were used but the “pass rate” was similar in the two groups with 67.1% of students in the face-to-face group achieving a “passing” score compared with 70.3% in the face-to-screen group.  The difference was not statistically significant. Face-to-face instruction was associated with more positive emotions such as enthusiasm, confidence, tranquility, and fun while face-to-screen instruction was associated with more negative emotions including concern, nervousness, fear, and boredom.3

Some of these negative emotions observed in the face-to-screen group were likely influenced by the uncertainties at the beginning of the pandemic and were not solely due to virtual learning. As students become more acquainted with distant learning, it is likely the virtual classroom will be perceived less negatively. However, student engagement and attention in the virtual classroom may be persistent challenges. It is promising that there was not a statistically significant difference in performance between the groups, suggesting that the flipped classroom is an acceptable approach to teaching in a virtual setting.

Instructors can work to increase virtual student engagement by offering a variety of ways for students to participate. Some may prefer to use the microphone, type in a chat box, or use the raise hand feature. By offering multiple options, students are able to interact in a way that they feel most comfortable. Breakout rooms can also be used to facilitate work in small groups, which might reduce students' anxiety about taking in front of a large group. Teachers can also ask their students for feedback throughout the semester to better understand students’ needs and concerns. To minimize technical difficulties, teachers should perform test runs before live class sessions to ensure Zoom links, internet connection, and sound are working properly.

The flipped classroom model allows for more interactive classroom experiences between students and teachers and has been shown to improve student performance when compared to more traditional methods to teach. While we have limited data from studies, the flipped classroom method still works in a virtual classroom setting. Teachers planning to utilize the flipped classroom model in an online class may face challenges including technical difficulties along with reduced student engagement, attention, and attitude towards virtual learning. Teachers should keep this in mind as they develop material to teach virtually. As more research is published about online teaching methods, educators will have a better understanding of how to approach teaching in virtual classrooms.


  1. Camargo CP, Tempski PZ, Busnardo FF, Martins M de A, Gemperli R. Online learning and COVID-19: a meta-synthesis analysis. Clinics 2020;75: e2286.
  2. Hew KF, Lo CK. Flipped classroom improves student learning in health professions education: a meta-analysisBMC Med Educ. 2018;18(1):38.
  3. Jeong JS, González-Gómez D. A STEM Course Analysis During COVID-19: A Comparison Study in Performance and Affective Domain of PSTs Between F2F and F2S Flipped ClassroomFront Psychol. 2021;12:669855.

October 6, 2021

Get Down with the Feeling: Teacher Empathy

by Taylor Adcock, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center

Empathy involves understanding another person’s experiences by imagining oneself in the other person’s situation.1 We live in an increasingly diverse society today and empathy improves social cohesiveness.  For this reason, empathy is particularly important in classrooms and influences how teachers and students interact. Studies have shown that cognitive and emotional empathy can promote students’ learning as well as help teachers have a more positive mindset and avoid burnout.2,3,4 Teacher empathy is not a widely talked about subject. This article will look at how teacher empathy can help promote student learning and success.

The term empathy originates from a German word that means "feeling into.” There are two forms of empathy: emotional and cognitive. Most people conceptualize empathy as emotional empathy whereby the individual feels the same emotion as another person.  When a person has personal distress, emotional empathy enables us to feel compassion or empathic concern. Empathic concern is typically developed later in life as it builds off and requires more self-control. Empathic concern also triggers prosocial and helping behaviors.  Emotional empathy is positively correlated with a willingness to help people even if it requires personal sacrifices.1 Intense emotional empathy is often called empathic accuracy. Empathic accuracy allows a person to have more accurate and complete knowledge about what is going on in a person’s mind and how they feel.

Cognitive empathy is the extent to which we perceive or presuming another person's thoughts and feelings.  This can involve an understanding of what someone might be thinking during tasks – from simple tasks to more complex ones. Simple tasks can include visually perceiving standing in a classroom teaching and imagining what another person walking by the classroom might see (observe). Complex tasks can include thinking about what a group might perceive or think. Cognitive empathy still requires sensitivity and knowledge of what other people are thinking and feeling but does not necessarily mean that a person cares about the other person.  This means cognitive empathy can be used to harm others. Con artists, for example, have well-developed cognitive empathy in that they understand what others are likely thinking and feeling but they don’t care about the welfare of the person they are taking advantage of. Cognitive empathy is part of our mental development because we grow to understand that another person's thoughts differ from our own.1 

Studies that have looked at teacher empathy toward students have found that it can have a positive influence on both students and teachers. One study looked at empathetic climates in the classroom and measured student success.2 Empathetic climates are created when the teacher pays attention to student opinions, values what students have to say, and when students believe the teacher “understands our frame of references”. The study enrolled nearly 500 middle and high-school students. Results from this study showed that an empathetic climate was positively correlated with students’ success even if a class was deemed particularly hard. Success was defined by students ranking their performance in the course using a 6-point Likert scale. The students succeeded, even in difficult classes, if they felt unconditional regard from the teacher.

Another study followed 178 elementary school teachers and looked at the benefits teachers received based on their level of cognitive empathy. Results showed that higher levels of cognitive empathy were associated with lower job burnout, positive mindsets about student behavior, better relationship closeness, and better competence in handling students’ problem behaviors. On the other hand, teachers who experienced high empathetic distress, such as becoming overwhelmed by the student’s emotional experiences, showed that there was higher job burnout, less competence with students’ problem behavior, negative mindsets with misbehavior, and fewer problem-solving strategies.3

There are 4 ways that teachers (you) can create a more empathic climate:4

  1. Perspective-taking –this means putting aside your perspective and looking at the situation from a different angle. Consider asking, “Do I believe my students are doing the very best they can?”  Every student is not going to have the same skill set when it comes to learning which means they may be trying their best already. Encouraging them through a challenging subject is important.
  2. Putting aside judgment – this means to step back and not jump to conclusions solely based on what is seen. Consider asking, “What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation?”  For example, if you have a student who is struggling with assignments and submitting them on time, do not assume that they are lazy. Come in at a different angle and make sure that home life is okay first.
  3. Trying to understand the student’s feelings – tap into your own experiences to try to find a way to understand what the student is going through or to remember when you went through a similar experience; however, remember that everyone does not feel the same things, and we each have unique experiences. Consider asking, “What more do I need to learn and understand about how other people are reacting to or perceiving the situation?” If a student loses a family member, it is important to try and understand how you felt at this time and then give leniency as the student may or may not have difficulty coping.
  4. Communicate that you understand – talk to students with reflective phrases such as “It sounds like you…” or “I hear that you…”; this can help build trust and can help students to solve problems, with you in the beginning and eventually on their own. This step requires self-reflection so consider asking, “What more do I need to learn and understand about how I react?” and “What more do I need to learn about how to communicate to others that I hear them, even while experiencing my own emotions?” For example, if a student has many tests one week and is late on assignments, reaching out and say “It sounds like this week may have been overwhelming for you.”

Empathy is understanding what others are feeling and thinking and is associated with helping behaviors even it involves some personal sacrifice. Empathy also involves an understanding that we do not all think in the same manner. Teachers who cultivate an empathetic climate can achieve positive outcomes not only for the student but also for themselves.


  1. Hodges SD, Myers MW. Empathy. 2007 (Accessed 2021 Sept 11).
  2. Bozkurt T, Ozden MS. The relationship between empathetic classroom climate and students’ success. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2010;5:231–4.
  3. Wink MN, LaRusso MD, Smith RL. Teacher empathy and students with problem behaviors: Examining teachers’ perceptions, responses, relationships, and burnout. Psychology in the Schools. 2021;58(8):1575–96.
  4. Morin A. Teaching With Empathy: Why It’s Important. [Internet]. (Accessed 2021 Sep 11).