Today’s blog is republished from the Strategic EdTech blog, written by Urvi Morrison, founder and CEO of Strategic Edtech. This post was published on April 24, 2017. 

The emergence of “fake news” and “alternative facts” in today’s political scene and corresponding media frenzies makes it even more important for us to be discerning of fact versus fiction. A growing number of resources have been created by various educational organizations to help educators teach students how to recognize “fake news.” However, to develop open-mindedness to all perspectives, we must learn and teach others to be both critical and empathetic. Reading the news is no longer just about acquiring information but also about discerning truth while developing empathy for others’ perspectives.

In a recent article published on MindShift, Dr. Brené Brown says “empathy consists of four qualities: the ability to take the perspective of another person, staying away from judgment, recognizing emotion in others, and communicating it. She defines empathy as “feeling with people,” and notes that it’s a “vulnerable choice” because it requires a person to “tap into something personal that identifies with the struggle of another.”

Educators can all agree that students should learn empathy. Only through employing empathy can we understand the motivations and experiences of others. MindTools explains that “developing an empathic approach is perhaps the most significant effort you can make toward improving your people skills. When you understand others, they’ll probably want to understand you – and this is how you can start to build cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork.” Although we cannot necessarily teach empathy, we can teach and build upon habits that increase empathic thought and actions. This begins with educators regularly practicing empathy. We often forget that we need to exercise our empathy muscle by engaging in challenging discussions and being vulnerable ourselves – especially around contentious issues or topics.
Listenwise is an incredibly robust and rich edtech tool to teach students about the world and current events; however, it can be used as a professional empathy development tool for educators as well.

These three steps utilize Listenwise to help any educator or administrator further their empathy development:

  1. Create a Community of Practice (CoP) around empathy at your school – a group of educators and administrators
  2. Each CoP member creates an account on Listenwise and chooses 2 articles that they have experienced debates around, are contentious, or are challenging topics students are interested in. Check out these suggestions from Listenwise to use when building empathy skills.
  3. Each CoP member adds each article from the group to their “Favourites” tab for bookmarking
  4. The group is charged with reading the same 2 articles from the list within a week, answering the reflection questions provided by Listenwise
    1. Create an in-person CoP meeting at the end of the week for members to discuss the article, share their reflection answers, and provide insight on how their students see these news pieces
    2. Encourage the group to answer: “What is my viewpoint on this article or topic? How do I feel when I encounter a fellow educator or student how shares the opposite perspective? What can I do as an educator to be respectful of all viewpoints and teach my students to be respectful and open minded?”
  5. The following week, choose 2 new articles from the list and follow the same process as described above

By answering the questions listed above, engaging in discussion around opposing viewpoints, and reading the same articles that the students would be using in class, this process will eventually help educators and administrators practice not only their own professional empathy but also learn to guide students in discussions that lead them to practice empathy. Today’s global political scene creates a perfect opportunity for all of us to practice a little more empathy.