Building Empathy: The First Step Toward Innovation

This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a participant in the first York County Innovation Lab run through the Lincoln Intermediate Unit.  This program, funded through the York County Community Foundation’s Doris E. Schwartz Education Fund, is designed to “inspire and empower educators and children to become creative problem-solvers.”  Since being asked to participate in this program, I’ve been looking forward to getting started and learning what it is all about.

Our opening session today was keynoted by George Couros, author of the book The Innovator’s Mindset and a leader in innovation in education.  Simply put, there was no better way to start kick-start this program than by engaging in a keynote like this.  While there were many great takeaways from the presentation (check out my Twitter and #YCIL to see them all), there’s one that jumps out: Innovation begins and ends with empathy.  You can have the greatest, most innovative solution imaginable, but if is not meaningful to your audience, it is pointless.

innovators mindsetBefore we (as educators) decide to dive into design thinking and find ways to innovate in our classroom, we need to start by building empathy.  There are many questions you can ask of yourself and of your students to begin building empathy, but asking the right question is key.  Try to avoid yes or no answers; instead, provide students the ability to respond freely and without judgement.  Yes, this means that you may need to make an anonymous survey, which sounds crazy; who knows what your kids will say about you, right?  Sure, you may receive some off-the-cuff remarks (I can tell you this from experience).  But you’ll also be blown away by what your students tell you, and you’ll gain a much greater perspective for your students’ feelings towards education and their learning environment.

I’m making it my professional goal to blog about my journey through the innovation process and the design thinking experience over the next year.  I hope you’ll follow along and interact, so I can learn and grow from your support.  Be on the lookout for an upcoming post about my first experience with the design thinking process!

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