Borrisokane Community College
Bachelor of Arts in English and History
PhD in History
Professional Master of Education (PME) in Post-Primary Education
Teachers’ Perspective of Student Empathy: Developing Active Citizenship and ‘Working with Others’ Through the Study of History with the Context of Junior Cycle Curricula
Education Research Papers Volume 4
This article inspected the perceptions of Irish post-primary teachers regarding empathy, its relationship to their Junior Cycle subject, and this relationship’s impact on a hidden curriculum of active citizenship. Given the prevalence of theory relating to historical empathy, focus was placed primarily on this subject. Context was provided through an analysis of subjects such as English. Data was garnered through a qualitative approach using semi-structured, short interviews (n=5), with participants selected via purposive sampling. Findings showed interviewees to be less optimistic than theorists regarding potential empathetic performance among young adolescents. Nevertheless, interviewees deployed empathetic methodologies within their subjects and believed this could foster active citizenship.
Dr Jeffrey Leddin is from Co. Limerick. In 2011, he was awarded a First-Class Honours for his BA in English and History by University of Limerick. In 2016, he completed his PhD in History with the same university. His book, The labour Hercules: the Irish Citizen Army and Irish republicanism, 1913–23, was based upon his dissertation and was published by Irish Academic Press in 2019. In 2020, he completed his PME in Post-Primary Education in Hibernia College and was awarded a First-Class Honours. He is currently teaching in Borrisokane Community College. He was drawn to teaching because it presents continuous challenges requiring innovation and versatility.
Can you tell us a bit about your research project?
My research project focused on the intersection between Junior Cycle History and the development of empathy, and the effect this can have on active citizenship. It examined which locus of curricula teachers felt was the most fertile for the co-development of these dual domains and how they can foster a spirit of development of pluralism within wider society. Most noteworthy was that through concepts of contextual historical empathy, the skill set of the historian, rather than content knowledge, allows for the enactment of empathetic performance.
What motivated you to undertake this research?
Inspired by the concept of the hidden curriculum, defined at a cursory level as that which we teach implicitly rather than explicitly, I wished to examine how other teachers felt we could equip students to not only exist in but truly contribute to the development of a pluralistic, inclusive society. Stimulated by my experience as a professional historian, I was fascinated with the idea that the dual domain construct of historical empathy could act as an upskilling technique to allow students to experience education as a catalyst for societal transformation. Cognisant of this, I wished to ascertain if teacher confidence in the ability to achieve the above aligned with the related theories or if practices were restricted due to a lack of focus on these established schemas.
What impact has it had on your practice?
This has had a significant impact on my teaching practice. Armed with the knowledge gained through this process, I constantly embed empathic performance into lessons. This, I have observed, has created a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship between the hidden curriculum and course work. Within both English and History, I have found that a focus on perspective-taking skills has deepened student knowledge of historical and fictional settings while that knowledge has, in turn, deepened their empathetic abilities and encouraged them to be drivers of inclusivity. Similarly, this has led to more empathetic teacher-student relationships with a notable increase in positive, interdependent and active learning environments.
How important do you feel research will be in your future practice?
Research empowers me to ground self-reflective processes with hard data, ensuring that such reflection aligns with how learning is actually taking place rather than how it is perceived to take place. Within the classroom, I am much better equipped to respond to students’ changing needs as examining classroom-generated data enables me to pinpoint more accurately areas that need amplified focus. Similarly, with enhanced research abilities, I can examine the plethora of pertinent pedagogy in order to best equip myself with the variety of practices that best meet the needs of these areas.