Check Your EKG

By Edward F. DeRoche, Ph.D.

An electrocardiogram — also called EKG—is a painless way to monitor your heart’s health.  An EKG can help measure heart rate, heart rhythm, and other cardiovascular factors giving you a clear picture of how you are doing.

The EKG I am talking about in this blog “monitors” your knowledge and teaching of Empathy, Kindness, Gratitude.  You will recall the research by Goleman and Ekman who found that there are three different ways teachers (and others) must address the teaching and learning of Empathy (add Kindness and Gratitude here).

  • The first stage of becoming empathetic is cognitive empathy – the act of knowing how another person feels.
  • The second stage is emotional empathy – the capacity to physically feel the emotions of another.
  • The third stage is compassionate empathy – the combination of cognitive and emotional empathy to take action about what one feels and thinks.

Michele Borba, internationally known speaker and authority on teaching and parenting, lists reading literary fiction as one of nine habits that is essential to raising an empathetic child.  She emphasizes that “reading is not only a child’s key to academic and future economic success, it also makes kids kinder—but it is strong literary fiction such as Charlotte’s Web or To Kill a Mockingbird that causes kids to be more empathetic.” 

The K in EKG represents Kindness.  Kindness incorporates the virtues of respect, compassion, and gratitude.  By the way, all are learned (taught/practiced) behaviors.   

Several years ago I read a book authored by David R. Hamilton titled “Why Kindness Is Good for You” (Hay House, 2010).  A year later Hamilton published a blog in the HUFFPOST describing the 5 Beneficial Side Effects of Kindness.  He noted that:

1.Kindness makes us happier—often called “Helper’s High.”

2. Kindness gives us healthier hearts—acts of kindness often produce “oxytocin” which helps lower blood pressure.  

3. Kindness slows aging (enough said)

4. Kindness makes for better relationships; when we are kind to each other, we feel a connection, and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.

5. Kindness is contagious.  When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friendsto three degrees of separation. 

Many schools have created a “Kindness Curriculum” which includes “Kindness Projects.”  You and your colleagues should review CASEL’s evidence-based Kindness in the Classroom® a social emotional learning curriculum that now focuses on equity, teacher self-care, and digital citizenship.

Give your students and others in classrooms and school a ”pulse check” – are all the “players” contributing to developing an attitude of gratitude?  Why?  Because: 

  • Gratitude increases resilience and improves sleep   
  • Gratitude improves physical and psychological health   
  • Gratitude reduces aggression and strengthens relationships 
  • Gratitude teaches “students to be more cooperative, patient, and trusting.”

You need more evidence?

Researchers at Berkeley surveyed 400 students, ages 12-14, found that students “who were more likely to be grateful to others showed higher academic interest, grades, and extracurricular involvement, and had lower interest in risky behaviors.”  Positive parent relationships were also associated with gratitude (and probably with many habits of the heart including empathy and kindness.) 

Other studies report that youth who deliberately practice gratitude have higher GPAs; experience more positive emotions, and, ultimately, go on to live more meaningful lives.  In addition, gratitude among middle school students can foster an increased sense of hope and trust in others, and fuel a desire to give back to their community (see empathy and kindness). 

Let me summarize this EKG blog by quoting Vicki Zakrzewski (Greater Good Magazine (2/02/2021).  She writes:   

Character education provides the ‘what’ – the opportunity to think about what virtues they would like to cultivate and what those virtues look like in action.  Students may be able to define and identify qualities such as honesty, gratitude, and integrity, (empathy and  kindness)s, but do they have the skills to put them into action?  In other words, how do we help kids to not only know the good, but to actually do the good?”


EMPATHY: Michele Borba, Unselfish: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, (Touchstone, 2017)

KINDNESS: Thomas Lickona, How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain, (Penguin, 2018)

GRATITUDE:  Robert A. Emmons, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, and The Little Book of Gratitude, (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D. Director, Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning and Teaching
School of Leadership and Education Sciences
University of San Diego
October 2022

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *