Perspective Taking and Gratitude What’s the Relationship?
By Owen M. Griffith and Wendy Baron
“Seek first understand, then to be understood.”
7 Habits of Highly Successful People
Why Perspective Taking?
All too often, we hear stories of hate crimes and communities being torn apart by violence. Underneath are attitudes of intolerance for others’ differences, such as race, culture, language, gender identity, etc. Let’s change the odds! We educators can impact the next generation by cultivating tolerance and respect for diversity in perspective and ways of being. And, we can even do it through our daily instruction to meet content standard expectations. Take a look at these two 6th grade ELA standards in terms of their cognitive, social, and emotional demands:
Students will engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly while respecting diverse perspectives.
Students will review the key ideas expressed and demonstrate understanding of multiple perspectives through reflection and paraphrasing.
Without direct, explicit instruction and cultivation of perspective-taking skills and attitudes, in addition to emotional and social skills of collaboration and active listening, students would not be successful in meeting these standards.
What is Perspective-Taking?
Perspective taking is the ability to take another’s viewpoint into account and to try to perceive another’s thoughts, feelings, or motivations. Simply put, perspective taking may be understood as “the cognitive capacity to consider the world from another individual’s viewpoint” (Galinsky, et al, 2008). In order to truly be respectful of another’s perspective, we must also be aware of our own thoughts and feelings about that perspective, so that implicit bias is noticed, and openness and respect is chosen. Respecting diverse perspectives requires self-awareness and self-regulation as foundational competencies
To be able to step outside our own small, circumscribed viewpoint is truly liberating. This is one of the most significant aspects of being human. Perspective-taking has many other benefits also. When we develop perspective-taking, a pro-social ability, we are more likely to reach out and help others. As educators, this can fundamentally change the way we teach our students, interact with parents, and collaborate with colleagues. A prosocial learning environment, where there is kindness, caring, and respect is optimal for students and educators to thrive. Perspective taking is vitally important in establishing strong relationships, the cornerstone of healthy school and classroom environments.
Gratitude Fosters Perspective Taking
Gratitude as a practice is a call to action to be a caring individual, cultivates clarity of mind, moves us away from wants and worries, builds our capacity for forgiveness, grows generosity, and helps us respond to difficult situations constructively and with perspective.
Teachers and school leaders can use gratitude as an avenue to perspective taking. We can begin by integrating appreciations in our staff meetings and PLCs to cultivate gratitude for one another as colleagues. During the process, we begin to understand each other as human beings—with different thoughts and feelings. As gratitude increases, our relationships deepen, and collaboration and respect for one another increases.
Seeing schooling from the student’s viewpoint can provide us insights into how students are thinking and feeling. As educators, we can use students’ perspective to inform our lesson planning and instruction and create optimal learning environments where students are safe—physically, emotionally, and intellectually, engaged and motivated with culturally responsive practices, and where differences are understood, welcomed, and celebrated!
In the midst of teaching a lesson, an educator can take a moment to consider the perspectives of the students. It might be that taking a few deep breaths to refocus and recalibrate while students are engaged in a task will provide insights that enable adaptations to the lesson that better address their emerging academic, emotional, and social needs.
Empathy, Respect, and Perspective-Taking
Many of our students come to school having experienced some type of trauma or stress. Students with four or more ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) have a greater tendency to act in ways that are disruptive to class and be struggling to regulate their emotions and behavior. Instead of asking what is wrong with a particular student, we could instead inquire about what has happened to that child. Understanding the underlying causes of misbehavior strengthens our ability to be compassionate, and empathetic when addressing the behavior. Gaining perspective softens us, resulting in greater generosity and respect for differences.
Developing empathy, respect and perspective-taking opens up opportunities to understand the wide range of students and their learning needs, and become more committed to doing whatever it takes to support all students in being successful academically, socially, and emotionally.
Here are some activities to increase perspective-taking for educators, mentors, and students:
- Think about a time when you were able to clearly see another’s viewpoint, like traveling to another country. Then, consider how that changed your perspective.
- Listen to students, colleagues, and mentors. Take time to ask probing questions about others frame of reference. What is their background? What are they passionate about?
- After teaching a challenging lesson, let a student explain the lesson again to the class in their own words. Watch how the student’s perspective affects the manner in which they explain the lesson.
- Sit at a student’s desk and really see from their perspective.
- Think about something someone did for you recently. Then, look at the situation from their perspective by thinking about what the “cost” was for their action. Did they give up time or spend some money to help you? Then, reach out and thank them in person or write them a meaningful note.
- Ask students to explore a scenario from multiple perspectives. Discuss the various perspectives, and invite students to share changes in their thoughts, feelings, and judgments about different people in the scenario at the beginning and at the end of the exercise.
- Tell stories like “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” shared below, exploring how different perspectives add up to a better vision of a situation and more effective solutions to problems.
The Blind Men and the Elephant
One way to communicate the idea of perspective-taking to educators and students is to tell the fable of “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” In this story, six blind men surround an elephant, each feeling a different part of the animal. One man feels the side of the elephant and concludes it is a wall. Another feels a tusk and thinks it is a spear. Still, a different man feels the tail and proclaims that this is a rope.
Then, the men step back from the elephant, communicate their thoughts and listen to each other, putting together the idea that they all have one part of an elephant. The six blind men must use perspective-taking to open themselves up to this solution. Individually, they are limited in what they “see.” When collaborating with educators or working with students, we must remember that there are times when we only see one part of a situation. As this story illustrates, perspective-taking inspires collaboration, which in turn brings about a more complete picture of a situation with new solutions emerging as people explore other viewpoints.
Perspective-taking involves perception and interpretation. In the case of the blind men and the elephant, alone, they were unable to figure out the mystery, yet, together, they could see the big picture.
Likewise, for students and educators, as we cultivate our capacity for perspective-taking we open ourselves up to infinite possibilities of how we might learn from and support one another to see beyond our own narrow perspective. For that, we can be truly grateful.
 Greater Good Science Center, Expanding Gratitude
Owen M. Griffith is an educator, consultant, and author, who wrote, Gratitude: A Way of Teaching. With generous funding from the Greater Good Science Center and working in collaboration with the New Teacher Center, Owen has been creating articles to help educators implement gratitude successfully in the classroom.
Wendy Baron, MA, is co-founder and Chief Officer, Social and Emotional Learning at New Teacher Center. Wendy is a teacher, coach, author, researcher, and champion for optimal learning environments where students and educators can thrive.