The empathic learning environment: Sit where they sit

We often say that empathy is like walking in another’s shoes or seeing the world through their eyes. But what about sitting in their seat?

Empathy is considering another’s perspective on a situation. We can view this from an emotional or cognitive perspective, but what if we thought about it from a physical space paradigm? I walked into a meeting with a couple of architects at their city offices this week. It was our second catch up about the project we are working on. As we sat, one said, “We are all sitting in the same spot”. It’s true, as humans we just seem to gravitate to sit in the same place, unless we consciously choose not to.

Scrolling through my Instagram stories, inspiring educator Matt @imanewteacher shared this pic. I thought about how simple, yet powerful it is. Whether a primary teacher, where you remain in the same space, or a secondary teacher who moves around:

What do your students see and experience in your classes? 

What is their physical perspective?

In Australia, and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere thousands of teachers are gearing up for the school year. Many are thinking about the learning space, the furniture configurations and even how students will move. Do you actually sit in the seats and look, listen and consider the perspective?

Sit in that seat, and that stool, and that sofa…

In a moment of quiet and calm, let’s face it, not so much of that once school starts, sit in their seats, see the space from their perspective. This is not just about ‘can they see the screen/whiteboard?’ but more about ‘Why do they choose to sit here?’

What can you see?

What’s the view from the window?

How many people are nearby?

Take time from the functionality perspective of classroom/learning space layout, to seeing from an empathic perspective. Imagining what a student might be learning, seeing, thinking and doing from that particular place.

Empathy is as much about sitting in their seat, or standing at their stand up desk, or lounging on the sofa, as it is about the emotional and cognitive perspective. 

Take a moment, while you can.


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