Special education professors publish book on epistemic empathy, a bridge between others
Two Salve Regina special education professors, Dr. Martha McCann Rose and Dr. Alice Tesch Graham, have recently published a book entitled “Developing Effective Special Educators: Building Bridges Across the Profession,” which was developed alongside Dr. Gia Anselmo Renaud from Bridgewater State University.
A major theme of the book is the idea of epistemic empathy, which can sustain professionals in the field of special education and improve instruction of students with disabilities. Epistemic empathy is the concept of being able to empathize with the cognitive perspective of another — which is an important concept for special education teachers.
“It’s not just about, ‘I feel what you’re feeling.’ Epistemic empathy takes empathy to the next level where you’re really trying to think like the person is thinking, because that will help you problem solve,” described Dr. Graham.
“It’s really built on respect for a person’s inner logic,” added Dr. Rose. “We have our students practicing all the time: assuming the perspective of somebody else and having it impact their lesson planning, their conversation planning, their emotional reactions, their timing.”
Both Dr. Rose and Dr. Graham point out that this idea of being able to truly empathize with how another person is cognitively processing is a concept that everyone needs — not just special education teachers.
“This is a skill whose time has come,” said Dr. Graham. “The world is so divided, and the communication is nonexistent. People are talking at each other. If we can spread epistemic empathy …. It’s almost like a diplomacy issue.”
Along with practices to helping develop epistemic empathy, “Developing Effective Special Educators” also offers plans for support and reflection that contribute to sustainable personal and professional growth and strong leadership. The book emphasizes the importance of building bridges across the teaching profession, outlining a collaborative program for novice teachers to improve practice and gain insight from veteran colleagues, who stay connected to their profession by sharing their experience.
In general, the bridge imagery was very important to the book, according to Dr. Rose and Dr. Graham. Epistemic empathy can be a bridge to help others truly understand and communicate with each other in more effective ways.
“Mostly what we’re saying is, ‘The bridge needs to be built. We have to be able to get to both sides. We have to be able to travel together. We have to be able to cross it,’ ” said Dr. Rose.
“Developing Effective Special Educators” is published by the Teachers College Press and is available to purchase here.
Featured image by William “BT” Hathaway, and it is featured in the book as well.