Friday, February 17, 2017


Educator Reflects on The Journey:

Richard Fanning

Spring Forest Middle School 

Why is empathy a critical part of our collective work?
Empathy is what makes the work “collective.” If we don’t bother to ask what our students or teachers need, we are simply guessing that we are doing the right thing for them.
By seeing a situation through another’s eyes or their experiences, we enable our solutions to actual solve a problem as perceived through a user’s experience instead of our perceptions.

Why is empathy a part of REAL learning?
By definition, empathy work is collaborative work. When we work as a team instead of a teacher preaching at students, students buy-in to the collaboration and are motivated to participate without threats of poor grades.
For example, a student who has clashed with me many times due to behavior in the library was a perfect example of an engaged student when I asked him for his genuine ideas about what should be changed in the library.
His suggestions were given with sincerity and real thought, not off the cuff comments that didn’t make sense. We both learned something of value.
I learned that while I never saw him reading in the library, he likes to read when he is bored, and I learned what he likes to read.
How does empathy translate into results?
When someone is sincere in his or her wish for truthful responses from teachers, parents, or students, they take an interest in the problem trying to be solved. What I want is real engagement from the people that I’m interviewing and as many ideas as I can get from them.

Why is this something we sometimes forget about?
I think educators have to get away from the idea that we have all the answers. Too many times, what we perceive as the problem is just not correct. We also don’t ask others’ opinions because it is time-consuming, and we may not get the answer that “we” want.
Fortunately, if we do listen to our patrons, while we might not get the answer that we want, we get an answer that will help solve the problem that we didn’t even know we had.

What advice would you give to adults (parent/educators/staff) to help them in developing this skill?
Many students need encouragement to “think wildly,” to come up with solutions that might not be feasible to us but will lead us to think about a situation differently.

We need to constantly reassure them that we want to hear their opinions and not what they think we want to hear.
In the above example, I had to continually remind the student that what I wanted was not something from my point of view, but from his. It takes some patience, but the rewards are wonderful.

What WINS are you seeing? 
I’ve seen kids whom I’ve interviewed change their entire attitude toward me and the rules that I have in the library just by asking them for their opinions on what I should change.
Sometimes I explain why I have the rules and procedures that I do, but for the most part, I simply listen and encourage them to tell me whatever they think would improve the library. This willingness to actually listen to them and their ideas changes how they see me as a person.
Long-term gains are when money is spent; it will be spent on something that will impact teachers’ and students’ ability to teach and learn which is why we are here in the first place.


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