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Is empathy the key to effective teaching? A systematic review of its association with teacher-student interactions and student outcomes
K. Aldrup, B. Carstensen, U. Klusmann

Is empathy the key to effective teaching? A systematic review of its association with teacher-student interactions and student outcomes

Educational Psychology Review

Teachers’ social-emotional competence has received increasing attention in educational psychology for about a decade and has been suggested to be an important prerequisite for the quality of teacher-student interactions and student outcomes. In this review, we will summarize the current state of knowledge about the association between one central component of teachers’ social-emotional competence—their empathy—with these indicators of teaching effectiveness. After all, empathy appears to be a particularly promising determinant for explaining high-quality teacher-student interactions, especially emotional support for students and, in turn, positive student development from a theoretical perspective. A systematic literature research yielded 41 records relevant for our article. Results indicated that teachers reporting more empathy with victims of bullying in hypothetical scenarios indicated a greater likelihood to intervene. However, there was neither consistent evidence for a relationship between teachers’ empathy and the degree to which they supported students emotionally in general, nor with classroom management, instructional support, or student outcomes. Notably, most studies asked teachers for a self-evaluation of their empathy, whereas assessments based on objective criteria were underrepresented. We discuss how these methodological decisions limit the conclusions we can draw from prior studies and outline perspective for future research in teachers’ empathy.