Call for papers

Empathy and kindness at the heart of learning

Promoting a pedagogy of respect and trust from pre-school to university


International conference

October 17-19, 2019 at the University Paris-East Créteil (UPEC)


Organised by the UPEC Graduate School of Teacher Education,  IMAGER EA3958 & LIRTES EA7313

In collaboration with l'Inspé d'Aix-Marseille, le Laboratoire Parole et Langage (UMR7309), SFERE Provence, UPLEGESS, l'Inspé de Rouen, Citoyennenté Jeunesse, l’Unité de Recherche Clinique Pierre Deniker (Centre Hospitalier Henri Laborit, Poitiers), La Maison des Arts de C réteil, ViPS (EA4636) and Rectorat de l’Académie de Créteil : DAFPEN, DAAC, CARDIE.


« Learning to take distance from prejudice and stereotypes, (the student) is able to appreciate people who are different from himself and live with them side by side. He is also able to show empathy and kindness » (Socle commun de connaissances, de compétences et de culture, 2015) 

This international conference continues the work begun in 2017 as part of the international conference "Educating for empathy: where do we stand?", organised at the University of Le Mans. Two years later, we explore this complex notion systemically by associating a number of related concepts such as kindness, benevolence, goodwill or altruism, in order to understand why and how these terms, absent from the field of pedagogy prior to the mid-20th century, have now become essential to promote learning and healthy interpersonal and intercommunal relationships in today’s society. At a time when the Ministry of National Education is adding the notion of "respect for others" to the fundamentals of "reading, writing and arithmetic," empathy and kindness have moved center-stage to become educational realities that require urgent ethical and epistemic reflection. We will therefore question the pedagogical implementations of these new objectives from pre-school to university, both in terms of classroom practice and teacher education.

 Popularized in the media and in everyday speech, empathy has become a mainstream concept that runs the risk of becoming one of so many ‘catch-all concepts’ that gradually loses all of its essential meaning and strength, much in the same way as its corollary, kindness, has often come to be viewed as synonymous with leniency or the abandonment of authority. Consequently, we suggest beginning our inquiry with a look at what differentiates these notions. For example, Tania Singer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Neuroscience in Leipzig, calls for making clear distinctions between emotional contagion, empathy and compassion. She and her team have shown that these notions correspond to different mental states that operate on the basis of distinct neuro-functional mechanisms (Singer & al., 2013).

 At the 2017 symposium, neurologist Simon Surgulaze introduced educators to the emerging field of "positive" psychology in his presentation "The neuroscience of sharing emotions: the power of a smile." He highlighted the importance of socio-affective networks in human functioning and showed that empathy literally configures the landscape of social reality by fostering pro-social behavior and attention to others, while inhibiting aggressive behavior and facilitating cooperation among members of the same group. In her recently published book (2018), Catherine Gueguen corroborates these findings: the affective and social neurosciences reveal that the feeling of competence and success and learners’ engagement are correlated to constructive relationships in a climate of emotional safety. This psychosocial dimension of "compassionate empathy" is one of the key vectors for the kind of change in education we wish to highlight.

 Within the framework of this conference our work on empathy and kindness in the classroom and in teacher education will focus on three main themes:

1. Relational well-being as a fundamental requirement for learning;
2. The development of emotional literacy;
3. Aesthetic experience as a viable pathway to learning to be reclaimed.

 Theme #1: Relational well-being as a fundamental requirement for learning

 Among the many studies that reveal empathy to be a necessary component of emotional health and well-being (Csikszentmihali, 2014 ; Neff et al., 2007 ; Neff & McGehee, 2010; Zahn-Waxler et al., 2000), we cite the 10-year longitudinal study carried out in 70 Finnish classrooms (Siekkinen & al., 2013) and which showed that the empathic attitude of teachers not only helps students develop a positive image of themselves as learners, but also enhances their academic achievement. With its joint focus on children and their teachers as well as their parents, this study highlights two interesting findings: 1) teacher empathy protects students from social exclusion phenomena; 2) the qualitative factors of relationships as highlighted by Seligman (2011)[2] have greater impact on cognitive development than structural factors such as material conditions or class size. In France, this concern was expressed in the Guide pour une école bienveillante face aux situations de mal-être des élèves published in 2014 by the Ministry of National Education. It aimed to help teachers "understand better and identify the signs of student malaise, and to implement measures (...) for the creation of a serene school climate."

 This guide aims to serve as a cure for some of the deeply ingrained forms of suffering at school. Kindness (bienveillance, in French) is seen as a general trait that manifests itself through a number of behaviors including the ability to listen to students, to adopt strategies that support their motivation to learn and use strategies that foster mediation and students’ self-confidence. The guide, however, says nothing about teachers’ and parents’ malaise and distress. Relational well-being must include students, parents and all those involved in the educational enterprise. Will this period of remediation gradually give way to one of systematic prevention, as can be seen, for example, in the Danish education system where an empathic approach to education is now common practice?

 Such a change requires a thorough examination of our work both from the more specific point of view of disciplinary didactics and, more generally, that of initial and continuing teacher education and development. In her field studies on the daily practice of teachers, Emmanuelle Maître de Pembroke (2015a) suggests moving away from traditional training models in order to focus more on teachers’ own personal modes of reasoning in relation to the emotional dimension of their experiences and to pay closer attention to the values they hold personally and ascribe to the teaching profession. She proposes the notion "perceptive acuity", which refers to a teacher’s ability to feel and listen to levels of meaning from within (the self) as well as those that emanate from their students in a process of ongoing adjustment. Developing this empathic awareness makes it possible to feel what is right for oneself and for one’s students and promotes relational well-being. Guiding teachers in this psycho-phenomenological approach emphasizing attention, listening and understanding also profoundly changes the posture of the pedagogical advisors and inspectors who accompany novice teachers as they enter the profession (Maitre de Pembroke, 2015b). In this conference, we will explore the well-being of students in relation to that of teachers, trainers, educational staff and families. We are looking for papers that describe approaches to teacher training and/or report on innovative experiments in the field that inquire into the quality of relationships involving all actors and stakeholders of the education system (students, teachers, parents and families, teacher trainers and educators, pedagogical advisors and inspectors, school administrators, etc.).

Theme #2: The development of emotional literacy

 As we now know, it is possible to develop not only empathy (Favre, 2006; Hein & ali, 2010; Zanna, 2010, 2015a) but also attitudes of kindness. This is what a number of studies have already revealed, such as those conducted by Marie-Hélène Immordino-Yang in the research laboratory directed by Antonio Damasio. In one of her studies, where she tests the ability of young people to feel compassion or admiration for characters portrayed in stories told to them, she puts forward the hypothesis that emotions, whose original primary function was to keep us alive, have evolved into social emotions that have become vital to our well-being. "Neuroscientific experiments show that we use the same neural networks to feel our bodies as to feel our relationships with others, our moral judgments and our creative inspiration" (Immordino-Yang, 2016, p. 108). In her message to teachers, she reminds us that it is no longer possible today to justify any theory of learning that dissociates the mind and the body or separates the self from social context. Learning is based on subjective and emotional experience, rooted in personal history, and this premise requires genuine emotional literacy.

 Other researchers (Eisenberg N, et al., 2006; De Waal, 2008; Zahn-Waxler et al, 1985) have also shown that effective emotion management fosters empathy. Developing a knowledge of one's own emotions is fundamental for adult teachers, parents, trainers, and other education professionals to accompany young people lucidly in this area of knowledge. This learning comes with experience, or the mental simulation thereof, as the joint research of neurologist Raymond Mar and psychologist Keith Oatley (2006) has shown on the role of fiction. They provided evidence showing that the more a subject can allow himself to become immersed in a story, the higher his empathy scores (Mar & al., 2014).

 If empathic experience is a first step allowing us to put ourselves in the shoes of another person based on what we perceive of their bodies and intentions, we nonetheless do not share their mental beliefs, nor do we see what they see, feel what they feel, or experience their intimate memories. Emotional Literacy induces a respectful treatment and a sharing of the words and feelings of others. It also requires an understanding of interdependent cognitive functions such as attention, inhibition or memory. We welcome papers that present approaches to teaching or training that aim to develop forms of emotional intelligence to arouse kind, thoughtful attitudes.

Theme #3: Aesthetic experience as a viable pathway to learning to be reclaimed

 Described as early as 1780 in philosophy and in Baumgarten’s ‘science of the beautiful’, aesthetics is interested in lived experience that allows us to understand a reality directly by our senses. Today, while bringing to light the mechanisms of embodied cognition, cognitive psychology shows that the aesthetic or sensory experience that passes through the body and the emotions is a key element of learning. As a result, we can understand why artistic practices, which engage the senses, are well suited to constitute a pathway to learning in their own right. For Jean-Marie Schaeffer (2000), aesthetic experience cultivates particularly deep forms of attention at the heart of human knowledge construction. This invites us to broaden our conception of arts education without reducing it to its historical, literary and heritage dimensions.

 The philosopher John Dewey opened this way forward in his book Art as Experience, proposing to look for aesthetics "in the raw material of experience" (1934, 2005, p. 23). Being interested in aesthetic experience in learning makes it possible to develop cognitive and emotional empathy through works of fiction (Mar & Oatley, 2009). The performative arts reestablish the aesthetic and emotional experience in sensory simulation (Schechner, 2003; Sting, 2012). Learning to look into another person's eyes to express an intention, to take his hand and guide him blindfolded, to listen to a softly spoken word, to make oneself internally available, etc., are all attitudes that school has typically found to be of secondary importance, sometimes even useless, and yet it is precisely these attitudes that build relationships of trust in oneself and in others (Aden & Eschenauer, 2014). At a time when intensive and repeated interactions with screens and augmented reality impoverish affective empathy (Cyrulnik, 2012, p.61), aesthetic experience, through artistic practices, allows for the maintenance of a strong, in-the-flesh connection with the reality of relationships. This is all the more important as we also know that it is the derealization of the other that leads to behaviors of exclusion and intolerance (Baron-Cohen), which in some cases can lead to extreme behavior (Bronner, 2016).

 In this conference, we return to the aesthetic and phenomenological foundations of empathy (Thirioux and Jorland, 2008). Indeed, the historical paternity of the term empathy is attributed to Robert Vischer who, in 1873, wrote a thesis on the feelings brought on by the optical perception of forms in works of art or in any object that affects us. Vischer proposed the term Einfühlung which corresponds to the process of adopting a different point of view and projecting oneself into an observed object, first physiologically and then mentally. The aesthetic emotion that gives rise to the sensation of being in resonance or of reading oneself in the other / or into the work of art consists of two distinct movements: a projection of one's own emotions and, in return, the recognition in the work of a sensation the spectator has himself projected. Edward Titchener subsequently translated the phenomenon of Einfühlung into English by the term empathy, which many years later, became empathie in French.

 But how are we to train this form of attention that we pay to ourselves and others? How can we develop students’ empathic and altruistic capabilities, as laid down in school curricula? How are teachers to be helped so that they may feel comfortable and confident adopting more empathic and caring attitudes? Arts-based teaching and more broadly, performative approaches to education (Aden, 2017, Eschenauer, 2017, Schewe, 2011, Sting, 2008) and to training (Fleiner, 2016) open up promising avenues for future research and practice. Performance is mainly social (Schechner, 2011, Fischer-Lichte, 2004, 2012) and is anchored in the relationship to and tolerance of the unknown. It allows for the development of divergent intelligence and change of perspective.

 Learning to adopt a critical stance with regard to the effects of these experiences in a safe climate "cultivates an open mind that no moralistic discourse can hope to achieve. Artistic practices contribute to the development of minds capable of changing points of view and perspectives"(Aden, 2009: 167). Artistic practices thus constitute a means of developing the capacity for empathy, not in addition to or next to academic and academic disciplines, but in synergy with them (Eschenauer, 2017 ; Schewe, 2011 ; Zanna, 2017). For as the physicist-astronomer and artist Mae Jemison reminds us, "the arts and sciences are neither two sides of the same coin nor two extremes of a continuum, but the manifestation of a single creative energy we can/must use to enrich our understanding of the universe and to strive to transform it.”

We are hoping to receive paper proposals that report on projects, syllabi, teaching and training experiences involving artistic practices.


Types of proposals:

  • Scientific talks/papers, 20 minutes in length;
  • Scientific posters;
  • Workshops:
    • Testimonies from teachers, teams, artists, education professionals of all categories, 15 minutes presented in free format: posters, workshops, short stage productions considered to be the finished result of work undertaken with learners/students ;
    • Student or adult performances ;
    • Video clips, no longer than 2or 3 minutes, produced with students and illustrating the way education professionals (all categories) exercise particular social competencies.
    • Thematic workshops will give participants the opportunity to share their experiences and meet new colleagues.

Proposal submission:

  • The proposal deadline: 19trh Aprilo 2019.
  • Responses from the scientific committee: 17th June 2019

All proposals are to be uploaded onto the conference website.

  • Scientific papers and posters. Proposals may be submitted in French or English. They must include a title and a summary of between 2,000 and 3,000 signs (approx. 500 words), a bibliography, along with the first and last name(s) of the author(s) and their institutional affiliation.
  • Workshops (testimonies of teachers, teams, artists, education professionals and video clips). A summary of between 1,000 and 1,500 signs (approx. 250 words).





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