By Sabrina Bartels – This past week, my fellow counselors and I got together and created a lesson for our students about putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. Since so many of our students enjoyed it (especially my 8th graders; they got a kick out of the fact that their counselor wrote a lesson about shoes!), I thought it would be beneficial to share it with all of you! While our lesson was targeted towards middle school students, I’m sure that it can be adapted for elementary or high school.
Our goal with the lesson was to teach our students about judging someone based strictly on their physical appearance: shoes, clothes, hair, etc. and how this can often lead to bullying. We also wanted to show our students that there is often more to a person’s story than what meets the eye. Many times, our students make quick, snap decisions about others. We wanted our students to take the time to think about what could be happening in someone’s personal life.
We started with two pictures. The first picture was a pair of ragged, dirty tennis shoes. The teachers asked the students to take two minutes and jot down their first impressions of the shoes, and what they thought about the person who wore them. The teachers then showed the students another image: a pair of brand-new, clean Jordan shoes. Again, the students were asked to write down their first impressions and thoughts about the person who wore the shoes.
We had the students set aside their notes and talk with a partner about what they thought empathy meant. The entire class then brainstormed a definition for empathy to use. Many of the classes used the definition “when you are able to understand how a person feels in a certain situation.”
Next, we discussed what it meant to have empathy for someone. We used the phrase “putting yourselves in someone else’s shoes.” We explained that by putting on someone else’s shoes, we are able to think about the story of their life. Some stories, we said, are happy. Other stories are sad. When our students tease others, or make judgments, without knowing that person’s story, it can be very hurtful. We explained that gossiping about those judgments can often lead to bullying, whether it is physical or verbal.
Then, we had the students go back to their notes on the two pairs of shoes, read what they had initially wrote, and then think about how their thoughts may or may not have changed. The entire class got the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about the project.
One student offered to share her thoughts after the discussion about empathy. She wrote:
I look at what I wrote about the dirty shoes. I said that I thought the person who wore them didn’t care about their appearance. I thought that maybe they liked gardening, or working, so they couldn’t be bothered with looking nice. And the person who had the nice shoes (Picture #2) probably cared a lot about their appearance and about others and were really snobby.
When I relook at the pictures and “put myself in someone’s shoes,” that makes me think. Like maybe the person who has really beat up shoes can’t afford others. Or maybe they did have new shoes, but they gave them to someone else, since they had shoes already. And maybe the person who has new shoes found them at a discount store. Maybe they were a gift from someone. Or maybe they are hand-me-downs, but someone took really good care of them before they were passed down.
After the lesson, we offered to take pictures of our students’ shoes, to show that we were going to “stand up” together against bullying. We have displayed the pictures on a bulletin board in our hallway. We are so proud of the fact that we are standing up, standing strong, and standing together!