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Could Empathy Training Help Teachers Reduce Suspensions?

Could Empathy Training Help Teachers Reduce Suspensions?

A new study from Stanford University researchers has found that there is a direct correlation between empathy training for teachers and reduced suspensions in schools.

According to the study, which was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, teachers who received reading material and online courses teaching empathy were significantly less likely to suspend students than teachers who did not.

The researchers conducted the study by splitting "39 K–12 teachers from five California public schools into two groups and randomly assigned them to read one of two research articles: one that said 'good teacher-student relationships are critical for students to learn self-control' and another that said 'punishment is critical for teachers to take control of the classroom,’” according to

After the teachers were asked how they were hypothetically discipline a child following the readings, the teachers who read the first article were 1.5 times more likely to administer non-punitive responses to the student’s behavior.

The researchers then tested the study out in the real world, using middle school math teachers as its subjects. The researchers found that after they study, the middle school math teachers exposed to empathetic content disciplined significantly less students than teachers who were not.

Hunter Gehlbach, an educational psychologist at UC Santa Barbara told Science Magazine the study is exciting because it indicates there is work to be done on understanding how relationships between teachers and students can be improved.

However, though there is a national push to reduce suspensions and expulsions in schools, many teachers have complained they do not have enough resources to discipline using alternative measures.

Teachers in both Los Angeles and New York City have said that recent emphasis on reducing suspensions has led them to deal with unruly classrooms with no solution thanks to a lack of available resources and training.

In other words, while reducing suspensions is important, so is providing training and resources that teachers can use to maintain classroom control.

Read the full story.

Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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