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The 2012-2013 school year was littered with unfortunate events. Incidents like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Boston Marathon bombings and the recent tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma cannot help but trickle into the classroom and influence our students. These unexpected yet pivotal occurrences got me thinking:
How do these events connect to art?
How can we take these heartbreaking circumstances and learn from them?
A 2009 study Within Connections: Empathy, Mirror Neurons and Art Education by Carol S. Jeffers reminds us that the art room might just be the perfect environment for teaching empathy. In her article, Jeffers discusses the experiences students have when identifying with and creating different works of art. Artistic exploration helps a student to identify his or her “self” while figuring out his or her place in the community and the world. Thanks to what are called mirror neurons, a student can experience empathy just by sharing artwork or experiences, even if he or she is not the creator of the piece. This puts a whole new spin on the importance of student reflections, class critiques and artist statements!
In light of this study, I encourage you to talk about current events with your students. Students can develop empathy not only by talking through their own emotions surrounding the events, but also through discussing artwork about the events. Try to help students identify with what an artist was feeling when creating a certain piece. If you want to take it to another level, you could even try an artistic service-learning project, like Pinwheels for Peace or Empty Bowls.
If you would like to learn even more about the power of empathy in the classroom, sign up for AOE’s Recharging the Right Brain Class this August.
How do you support empathy in your classroom?
What service-learning projects would you recommend? Please share!