Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Education

First Advisor

Gary Sehorn, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Scot Headley, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Susanna Thornhill, Ph.D


This qualitative phenomenological study sought to explore the lived experiences of four high school seniors. Through the utilization of personal interviews, students offered their unique perspectives on the phenomenon of empathy and specifically empathy from a teacher. The study used questions inviting a retrospective analysis of students’ K-12 experience, and students’ stories provided rich details on the times they felt empathy from teachers. Three significant themes were identified through content analysis in this study and are known as The Trajectory of Empathy. These three themes were : (a) Creation of Personal Connection: teachers used a combination of humor, initiating conversations, personal stories, and universal treatment of all students to create personal connections with students; (b) Moments of Empathy: personal connection with teachers allowed moments of empathy to occur, primarily in one-on-one interactions, and either the teacher or student could initiate the moments of empathy; (c) Lasting Impact of Empathy: following the moments of empathy, students felt a stronger connection to their teacher, and in many cases still have lasting impacts from that experience. Implications for this study suggest a need for schools to move beyond a sole focus on academic curriculum to incorporate times for personal connection, a need for educators to advocate for changes in their schedules to have time to connect with students and engage in empathy, and a suggestion for administrators to prioritize students’ emotional well-being in addition to academics. This study challenges others to continue seeking the student perspective regarding this much-needed topic.

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