Authentic empathy for your online conversations

April 19, 2020


I'm not going to start by mentioning our unprecedented times or that we're navigating a new norm, but needless to say, pastoral care is taking on a whole new frontier. Schools are needing to adapt at speed, all the while maintaining the excellent standards of pastoral care we all strive for as educators. Many of you will be having conversations with your pupils online or over the phone, offering tutorials, checking on the vulnerable and supporting those in need during lockdown. But we don't need to be robotic in our digital pastoral care. Here are some do's and don'ts for showing authentic empathy in our online conversations. 


Let's get the don'ts out of the way. 


Don't rush to fix things. Allow space to feel and talk before even considering a solution. 


Don't make it about you. 'I know exactly how you feel' shuts down their own feelings and turns the empathy in the wrong direction. 


Don't rely on cliches. Everything might happen for a reason but this can seem smug and small when trying to get to grips with new and vast feelings. 


Don't diminish feelings. 'Don't be silly.' 'Just look on the bright side.' Just nope. 


Avoid any sentence that starts with 'At least'. It could be worse scenarios aren't helpful.


Don't interrogate. It's about getting the balance right. Allow space. 


Don't be afraid of silence. This gives time to process and interpret. 


Here are the do's.


Name and acknowledge feelings

It sounds like you're in a lot of pain. 

I hear you're feeling overwhelmed. 

It seems you're feeling frightened. 


Check your understanding

It sounds like you're feeling x because of y. 

It sounds like you're feeling anxious because you're worried about your Mum. 

It sounds like you're feeling lost because your girlfriend broke up with you. 

Have I got that right?


Use character strengths

You're brave for sharing that. 

You're showing great insight to be able to express yourself this way. 

You're a great communicator. 

I'm impressed by the courage you've shown dealing with this so far. 


Ask for more, be curious

Tell me more about that. 

And what else? 

How long have you felt this way?

I'm wondering how that made you feel? 


Show you care & reassure they were right to trust you

Thank you for sharing that with me. 

I'm here for you. 

I appreciate you confiding in me like this. 


Support them in finding their own next step

When you've felt this way before, what helped then? 

What one thing could you do now to make yourself feel safer? 

What usually makes you feel calm? 


Offer hope

There is a way through this. 

Recovery is possible. 

This feeling won't last forever. 

You've come up with a brilliant plan to help yourself. 


Coupling up a character strength or an acknowledgement of feelings with a question or a check of your understanding is the sweet spot. Showing solid empathy when we don't have eye contact, facial expressions and body language to rely on is a challenge but one which we have to overcome to maintain effective pastoral relationships with our pupils. Your pupils are so fortunate to have you, thank you for all you're doing to support them. 









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Keri Haw

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