Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Development and Family Studies

First Advisor

Mary Jane Brotherson


This qualitative study focused on understanding empathy and its role in partnerships between teachers, children, and their families within the context of early childhood education. Empathy is critical in relationships and has been tied to positive outcomes in social services, but society as a whole has been characterized as facing an "empathy deficit." Diversity has increased dramatically in the United States within the past 30 years. As diversity increases, the need for teachers to be able to empathize with children and families who are different from themselves also increases. Empathy in early childhood education partnerships is valued, however the role of empathy in parent-teacher partnerships in early childhood is not well understood. Eighteen inclusive preschool teachers participated in initial interviews; five of whom participated in follow-up interviews. This ethnographic study focused on understanding teachers' values, beliefs, and language in relation to empathy and parent-teacher partnerships. Overall, the study found that many teachers expressed empathy toward children, families, and families' cultural practices, though some did not. Teachers whose statements were solely empathic described their relationships with families in a positive way; whereas teachers whose statements reflected critical views often described dissatisfaction in their relationships with families. Three major themes and nine subthemes emerged from the data. The three major themes are: (a) criticism distorts empathy, (b) expressing sincere empathy, and (c) nurturing empathy's interconnected nature. The interpretations of these themes provide an understanding of the complexities of empathy in parent and teacher partnerships. Implications for the development of empathy in preservice and in-service professional development and suggestions for future research are discussed.


Copyright Owner

Nancy Peck



File Format


File Size

163 pages