Empathy – Care That Makes a Difference

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Empathy is putting yourself in the place of another and understanding their perspective. It is identifying with them such that you feel what they are feeling and are moved to respond compassionately out of genuine care. These behaviors create attitudes of acceptance and validity, nuturing relationship building Empathy is lacking in our world today and the evidence of its absence is everywhere: on our roadways, in our shopping centers, etc. So many folks feel underappreciated, undervalued, and undersupported in their work, for the work is viewed simply as the means to the end goal. In education, this equates to higher standardized test scores. Sadly, it seems that we’ve come to measure success (and worth) predominantly from data.

As an educator for nearly forty years, I tried to model caring, respect, and trust for my students. The simple idea of being a team, encouraging and supporting each other so that everyone could achieve applied to students, parents, and colleagues. Listening, truly hearing the needs of others, shows that we care and encourages and empowers children and adults to be their best, but more importantly to be happier, more engaged, and more caring of others. Feeling connected and cared about influences how we connect and care for others. The excerpt below is from my book, Full Immersion:

                     Brownies (Little Silver Packets) Because Everybody Needs a Cheering Section

                   Don’t let your job define your happiness is a saying I have heard before but never applied to my life prior to the last few years of my career.  Teaching was my life, my passion, my hobby, my identity.  I thought about my students more than their parents did in some cases, and continuously worked to improve my instruction.  I began to see many of my colleagues increasingly frustrated, overworked, and exhausted.  Most of us were feeling underappreciated in our school and devalued by parents and society as a whole.  I could see burnout eminent for several of my teammates.  

     Joyce Meyers states, “Happiness is not a feeling, it is a choice.  To be happy, one must choose to be happy, not respond to a circumstance that now controls your happiness.”

     Hoping that I might bring encouragement, if only briefly, I began doing something that I love – baking (Remember the zucchini?)- specifically brownies.  I started by bringing them for special events: birthdays and Friday treats. This escalated into movie nights, bake sales, classroom achievement celebrations, etc.  I honored requests, but sometimes would simply show up with a little foil wrapped package for someone having more struggle than usual.   This little treat was enough to make a smile appear every time.   What a sweet surprise to walk into your classroom or office and find a small silver packet waiting for you!  Smiles of recognition would greet me as I walked through the building with these treats and I developed a following –- literally, a following! Eyes would follow me down the hallway until I was out of sight and the realization settled in that the treat was for someone else.  I was told that I had become famous for my brownies. One of my administrators said: “I am a happy man” as he realized he had been the recipient of the coveted silver packet.  Students called me the “brownie teacher” and requested being in my classroom when they reached 4th grade.  I have received more smiles, hugs, and tears of joy over little silver packages than I can count.  I was told that a parent, at a movie night, offered five dollars for the brownies that remained on a plate on the dessert table! This simple idea took on a life of its own.  One person can make a difference – one little silver brownie packet at a time! Everybody needs a cheering section.

     Just prior to Christmas of my first retirement year, I scheduled a time to deliver multiple pans of deliciousness to the teachers’ lunch room. You never know the impact you’ve had on others until you are not there any longer and suddenly pop in for a visit. To see my colleagues struggling with exhaustion, work overload, and frustration with too many needy students was difficult, yet providing them with a treat, words of encouragement and hugs, hopefully made the day a bit easier.  My former students, now fifth graders, were gone on a field trip so I did not get to see them…good reason to make a return visit.  It seemed odd to walk down hallways that were still so familiar to me, to peek into the classroom that had been mine for twelve years, and to see it rearranged and filled with another teacher’s things.  Remembering the struggle of trying to meet all the needs of students and all the requirements of assessment, I was flooded with gratitude that I did these things to the best of my ability and ministered to the kiddos as if they were my own, but that those days were in the past.

Was it worth it?  Yes.  Did I make a difference? Yes.   

My purpose in being there, again, was to share friendship, inspiration, and little silver packets of brownie happiness!   

Was it worth it? Yes.  Did I make a difference? Yes.  

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)

Empathy is caring enough to make difference. We all can do something!

Full Immersion is available at Amazon.com/Full-Immersion/Nancy-Koenig and Barnes & Noble stores.

Please visit me at: Facebook.com/AuthorNancyKoenig, NancyKoenig.blog, my Amazon author page (Just click on my name under the book title.), and email me at nancykoenig1@yahoo.com.

Watch for information about my upcoming author event at Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument, Saturday, March 14, 1:00-3:00.

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