Blog Post

Staff Practices: Empathy

By Staff at Weikart from Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality

Staff create the space for empathy to develop by being authentic models for the youth. Spaces cannot be safe unless the staff are continually modeling empathy and emotion management skills. The staff must model owning their own identities.


Staff Practices: Empathy

Structure | Modeling

This month, we are looking further into the experience of Empathy Practices.

Staff create the space for empathy to develop by being authentic models for the youth. Spaces cannot be safe unless the staff are continually modeling empathy and emotion management skills. The staff must model owning their own identities. La’Ketta Caldwell from Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM) painted this picture:

So they know right away, they know Miss La’Ketta did not grow up on the block. I tell them. I bring in pictures. I lived on a farm. I’m very authentic. I don’t pretend to be anybody else other than who I am. And then I have Miss Sherry. Miss Sherry, she paints with her words. She sounds, I mean every word, the diction is perfect. She’s African American. Then I have Calile who’s from the block. Calile looks like them. It is important that they see somebody who looks like them. My videographer, Mark, he’s Caucasian. I expose my kids to a variety.

Although staff model being authentic, appropriate boundaries are maintained. “They maintain those strong boundaries. They maintain clarity in terms of expectations. They maintain that it’s about holding ourselves accountable with them, too, and with one another. ‘Hey, we can work through this. It’s okay for people to disagree,’ ” shared Allison Williams at Wyman.

Fundamentally, the staff model empathy skills by developing appropriate, empathetic relationships with the youth. AHA! sums this up in a passage from their Challenge application :

Adult facilitators are trained to bring a general guiding structure designed to teach crucial social and emotional competencies and to create space for heartfelt sharing and learning, and to hold the container and share authentical ly, but not confessionally. The adults are there to serve as solid, dependable resources and affirmative influences for youth, but not as peers or friends.

Paul Griffin at The Possibility Project (TPP) stressed:

You have to hire people or have leadership that is empathic and that not only talks teamwork, but also actually practices it. You have to have individuals who are not only capable of that but are trained in it and believe in it and adhere to it.

Ultimately, youth and staff recognize that modeling empathy and caring about others makes an impact beyond the program. A youth at TPP said:

It’s not just a program about getting to know each other, but it’s a program about, “What else can we do?” It’s not just about us. It’s about everybody because the program isn’t just changing our lives. It’s going to change everybody else’s lives because it starts with us, but it branches out.

For more information about SEL Challenge Program or Empathy Practices, see https://www.selpractices.org/domain/empathy

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