Empathy: noun; the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/empathy)

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the TECHCON conference. Although each breakout I went to was valuable in its own way, the keynote speaker left me invigorated and feeling empowered to make an impact in education and in the educational experience for all stakeholders.

Jason Markey, Principal of East Leyden High School, kicked off the day by briefly describing how his district incorporated the Design Thinking Process to build better experiences while making informed decisions to grow new ideas.

I had heard of the Design Thinking Process, but never really delved deep into the process myself. Jason immediately reminded me that the first aspect of the Design Thinking Process is empathy.

Empathy….In a previous post, I mention how being a mom changed how I interact with my students as I was able to empathize with how this would make my daughter feel…but that was just in discussing how I interacted with students as a teacher. Jason opened my eyes up to a whole new way to empathize with students.

He asked how many of us in the room were visible in the classrooms. I immediately raised my hand, as a building administrator this was one of the things I was most proud of; I was everywhere: in classrooms, at recess, bus duty lunch duty, in the gym – I was an extremely visible leader and proud of it…Until I heard Jason speak who then showed me what I SHOULD have been doing to be visible and making a meaningful difference in my building. I should have been building empathy….but how?!?!?

Jason went on to talk about the Shadow a Student Challenge.

What a great way to build empathy for students while getting a pulse on your building’s social, emotional, and academic needs! You don’t need to be an administrator to participate, and I do encourage all to participate. I guarantee it will make you question your teaching practices and better understand your student’s perspective and ways you could improve their daily experience.

Mr. Markey took the Shadow a Student Challenge one step further, not only does he shadow random students for full days to experience what a “typical” day would be like for them. He also enrolled himself as a student for an entire unit in one of the classes. Everyday he showed up to that class as a student, participated, completed assignments, tests, etc. He stated that this was the game changer for him.

Jason felt the nerves, time constraint, and exhaustion of being enrolled as a student in one High School Course. These are the emotional hurdles our students are faced with daily and Jason was able to not only empathize with that now, but feel them first hand.

He walked away from that experience realizing that his school needed to do different, think different, be different because his students were different than he was when he was in High School. He thought he had empathy for his student population as he had been a student before too…but he didn’t realize the extent of how different the world they are living in was until he literally lived it too!

So, I employ you to participate in the Shadow a Student Challenge! The rewards from this day will not only benefit you, but your entire student and faculty population!

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Katie Algrim – Director of Innovative Professional Learning

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