School suspension rates have risen in recent years.

And since the punishment is linked to more severe problems later in life, such as dropping out of school or ending up in prison, researchers at Stanford University have been looking for ways to prevent it.

Researchers asked one group of math teachers to complete a 45-minute online activity about how important it is to respect and humanize students. Meanwhile, another group of math teachers read about how to use technology in the classroom.

By the end of the school year, suspension rates were 50 percent lower for the empathy-trained teachers compared to the control group — at 4.8 percent instead of 9.6 percent.

Jason Okonofua, who led the study, said that more teacher empathy promotes classroom harmony as well, because the educators are not viewed simply as stern authority figures.

"In turn, students feel more respect and trust for their teachers as well as more motivation to behave well," he said.

While most teachers are naturally empathic people, Okonofua said, factors such as larger class sizes and zero-tolerance policies can make it tougher to tap into that side.

"My hypothesis is that there's punitiveness in the air, and what this intervention does is remind teachers of the empathy that we suspect they already wanted to have with their students," he said.