Updated: May 9
I have been a teacher for 16 years. I always loved sport and physical activity so, back in 2006, becoming a PE teacher felt like a natural next step. After recently deciding to pursue a new career path, I’ve been reflecting on my many years in teaching. One of my key takeaways is how amazing the relationships I’ve developed with students, staff and parents are.
These are built on genuine and meaningful connections, seeing people as people, and through really listening and understanding each other. This was something I consciously worked on, especially towards the latter end of my career. Earlier on, I connected with people well, but still saw most things from my own perspective. More recently I have tried to see the world through the eyes of others.
A former colleague of mine recently told me:
“teaching and working in schools is all about the people, not the buildings, classrooms, facilities or exam grades.”
I think this statement is likely to be true in most jobs and in nearly every area of our lives. It’s the people who we miss when they’re gone; the person leaves the impression behind.
The youHQ app we’ve built is very much based around this concept of meaningful connection and empathy for the whole school community. If a school or organisation is to create a culture where the key stakeholders feel valued, supported and cared for, then empathy is the key to unlocking this. We can only do that with conversations centred around the individual’s needs, values and goals.
Within his famous Hierarchy of Needs, Maslow identified that we must feel understood and heard if we are to have holistic motivation and wellbeing. Individuals must have their basic safety needs met in order for love and social belonging to follow. If an individual doesn’t feel safe and secure, the Amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for detecting danger) can take over and fight-or-flight response kicks in. This is particularly prevalent for children, who tend to have a higher level of need to feel safe. Throw in a global pandemic and a potential world war and it’s easy to see how many may find this difficult.
Simon Sinek has previously talked about empathic leadership, describing it as “...not about being in charge, but rather taking care of those in our charge.” If I look at this from the perspective of a modern teacher, my experience over the last few years leans so much towards the job of results and outcomes.
Can we add value? What were the grades this year? How do they compare to previous years? Where does the school stand in the league tables?
We, as a company, truly believe in valuing the person above all else. If you feel invested in, you will work up the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ pyramid and will be far more likely to achieve personally, academically and professionally. Empathy is a skill, a muscle that can grow, and I certainly haven’t mastered it! If it’s practised, reflected upon, and held in the highest of regard by all leaders, then we can genuinely change the way we work and live.
How can empathy be practised?
Find time to listen and understand those in your care. This can be very difficult within our busy lives.
Respond, don’t react (i.e. listen, wait before you talk, allow time to pause and reflect within a conversation)
Be curious, uncover similarities
Think about the impact an action or series of actions will have on an individual in your charge from their perspective
What are the benefits of empathy?
It develops empathy for others and self-compassion
It facilitates calm responses over emotional reactions
It creates genuine, meaningful connections
It helps set healthy boundaries
It reduces conflict and arguments
There is huge power and potential in empathy in schools, businesses, personal scenarios, and family life. If practised frequently, the benefits are varied and powerful.
I’d like to finish with a personal story. My mother-in-law asked my youngest son to think about what life must be like for my eldest, who has been diagnosed with learning difficulties.
“What must it be like to be in his shoes?” she said.
“Uncomfortable,” he replied, “his shoes are a size smaller than mine”.
This blog was written by Jez Belas, Sales and Engagement Director for youHQ and Life on Time Ltd. Jez has 16 years of teaching experience and until recently was Head of PE and Wellbeing at an independent school in Berkshire.
To find other resources for whole school (teacher, student, parents etc) wellbeing, please follow the link HERE. For more information about our school wellbeing platform and to sign up for a free 7-day demo, please click HERE.