Graduation Year


Document Type

Master's Thesis


Master of Science



Program Director

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

First Reader

Matthew E. Davis, PhD

Second Reader

Zoee Bartholomew, EdD


The purpose of this research was to understand how inclusive classroom practices help cultivate empathy and community, particularly “post” pandemic and after learning conducted in isolated online and hybrid formats. The research is situated in a theoretical framework that integrates and examines inclusive educational practices, the role of empathy, and how diversity explored through literature can serve classroom culture. This study involved eighteen kindergarteners and six adult participants, including five educators and one counseling psychologist, and utilized a qualitative research design with a constructivist worldview to elicit from students how they understand and relate to empathy and inclusion. Students participated in literature based units that capitalized on building classroom community, celebrating diversity, and how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. They wrote reflections and participated in focus group discussions to share their views on cultivating wider circles of community through inclusive play and impactful empathetic words. There were three major findings. First, joining together through hill (strength) and valley (place for growth) pairings cultivates a community where all students are able to support and be supported. Second, it is vital to develop a practice of “catching a student doing something good” as opposed to focusing on the problems that are evident. It was highlighted how this practice is important between teachers and students, and also between students themselves. Third, students articulated how empathy and care ripples out as circles that start with the self and expand with care to the birds and the bees, along with the flowers and trees in the world. The implications for classrooms include the value of having open conversations to promote a more inclusive community, learning from the students, as well as creating opportunities for students to play together. At a school level, professional development on the implementation of inclusive practices and the promotion of student voice should be mandatory for all educators. Students would benefit greatly if all teachers’ pre-service training had a deeper focus on cultivating an empathy-focused classroom community and facilitating dialogic classroom focus discussions to draw out student voices.

IRB Number


Included in

Education Commons