Teaching pupils empathy inspires learning, Dubai teachers told

Teachers and staff from a number of private schools in the emirate took part in a morning workshop to find out how to improve well-being among themselves as well as pupils and parents.

DUBAI // Empathy building among school pupils not only helps friendships but cuts out bullying and inspires learning, teachers have been told.

Staff from private schools in the emirate took part in a workshop to find out how to improve well-being among themselves, pupils and parents.

“Research shows that the more we know one another, the greater the likelihood of compassion and tolerance in our schools,” said Justin Robinson, director of the Institute of Positive Education at Geelong Grammar School, in Victoria state, Australia.

Mr Robinson, along with his colleague David Bott, presented their work to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) run What Works Tolerance conference at Amity University on Monday.

In 2006, their school adopted a policy to promote mental well-being.

Pupils have lessons dedicated to well-being and there has been a dramatic improvement in behaviour and learning.

“We don’t send children to detention now, but instead they are spoken to so that they understand the impact of their actions on others,” said Mr Bott.

This resulted in fewer cases of bullying and better well-being among students and staff, he said.

Fiction can help to create empathy in the reader as they are placed in the perspective of the characters and so can understand feelings, thoughts and motivations, the speakers said.

Getting children to play music together further develops this trait, as does a daily mindfulness practice and playing and competing together.

“In activities like chess and sport it is essential for players to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling and that in turn provides for a closer understanding of empathy,” said Mr Bott.

However, it is essential to include senior management, teaching staff, pupils and parents in this approach, he said.

There is growing interest in well-being at schools in Dubai, and the KHDA has been eager to raise awareness of the issue.

Some schools already employ experts in positive education.

During their stay, the Geelong representatives will run three one-day courses for teachers and parents.

They plan to return in August for a four-day intensive course.

Abdulla Al Karam, director-general of the KHDA, said well-being and happiness were important planks in the regulator’s plans for ongoing improvements in education in the emirate.

“It is open to the individual schools how they implement well-being and positive education policies but it is something we think is important,” he said.

Repton School in Dubai has implemented a daily mindfulness practice for its pupils.

“We have our IB [International Baccalaureate] being trained in positive education practices so that they can then teach these to younger pupils,” added Lisa Hollis, assistant head of teaching and learning at Repton.