Empathy Square Tool

This tool provides powerful insights on what your students might be thinking and feeling during the learning process

Use this tool to:

  • Gain greater understanding into why specific students may not be making progress in a specific outcome area
  • Help you to better know your students and attune to their experiences of learning
  • Get ‘into the head and hearts’ of your students and think about how their cognitive and emotional state might be affecting how they learn


  • Prep

    Have printed copies of the template and a space suitable for a sprint team meeting.

  • Step 1

    Orientate (2 min)
    Share the template and start with a quick orientation to the activity.

  • Step 2

    Complete empathy activity (5 mins)
    Be driven by empathy as you complete this activity and keep it real. Empathy is about putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, in this case your students’ shoes. Fill in the template through the following steps:

    - Name a specific student who is in the target group for your current sprint. Each teacher should focus on a different student.

    - Reflect on and write in the boxes what they 'say' and 'do' as learners in this outcome area e.g. They say “this is dumb” or, “I can’t do this”. These should be things you can see or hear (observable actions).

    - Now infer what they might be ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ when teaching is occurring in this outcome area. e.g. They might be thinking “I’m not sure where to begin”. The might be feeling “anxious” or “frustrated”. At this step you are trying to carefully consider what might be going on inside this specific student’s head and ‘heart’. Inferences should be based on multiple observations, and you should be able to answer the question “So what did you observe that makes you say that?” when you have made an inference. If you don’t feel like you can correctly infer at this stage, then feel free to put a ‘?’ in the box to denote that you aren’t quite sure yet. A word of caution – be careful not to treat inferences as fact.

  • Step 3

    Share insight (5 – 7 mins)
    As a group take time to each share your specific student stories while holding up your template. You can use the following structure:

    - The student I have focused on is...
    - SAY - I hear this student say things like...
    - DO - I have observed that this student often...
    - THINK - I have inferred that the student might be thinking...
    - FEEL - I have inferred that the student might be feeling...

    Seek to gain new insights into why these students are not yet making the desired progress in this outcome area. Place particular focus on the feeling box. Remember emotions are the gateway to learning. If students are not in the optimal emotional state it is unlikely that they will be able to learn effectively. e.g. It is almost impossible to learn if you are angry, anxious or afraid.

  • Step 4

    Record and reflect (5 mins)
    Synthesise your thinking through the following questions and record your answers on the template:

    - What have you learned about why these students are not making the desired progress? What specific learning needs have you uncovered?
    - Considering your observations and inferences above, what might these students need more of?
    - Considering your observations and inferences, what might these students need less of?

Inspired By: Empathy Map created by David Gray