Teach Empathy and the SDGs By Connecting With A Partner Classroom

I’ve become incredibly passionate about connecting students globally using technology. I’ve seen the impacts of what this can do for students and the profound impact it can make on these little human beings that we teach!

When our students are able to meet students that look, learn, and live differently than they do, eyes open and perspectives change. They find so much in common, but also celebrate and appreciate differences. They marvel at new information and new ways of thinking. They feel pride in sharing about their communities and schools. The shy kids become a little less shy when they have the chance to speak and share in the comfort of their classroom but the “safety” of just using video to communicate. They feel validated and uplifted when a class across the country or halfway across the world acknowledges “Yes, we hear you and we feel that way too!” Students find their voices, and often find so much more.

If we as teachers embrace and unleash the potential of these connections, we can take students far beyond the introductory stuff (How long is your recess? What books are you reading? How cold/hot is it where you live? Whoa…you like Fortnite, too?) and we can eventually structure these video chats around some serious global issues! We can use this technology to communicate and collaborate with other classes to teach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and inspire our students to action!

I created the chart above to show how that progression – that deepening of purpose – can happen.

We have free and brilliant technology tools to make these connections possible. My three favorites are:

  • Empatico – for elementary schools, you enter your grade level, location, availability, and activity choices (they have 9 so far) and Empatico magically finds you a partner classroom with the same interests! You are matched with another class somewhere in the world, and when you are ready, you launch the video chat right within the website – it couldn’t be easier! My entire school district is using Empatico in our 175+ elementary classrooms and it has truly brought the world to our students.
  • Skype in the Classroom – If you haven’t checked out the Skype in the Classroom site, please click on the link! In addition to virtual field trips and guest speakers, you can always find classes, teachers, and projects. There are so many choices and connections from all over the world, and Skype in the Classroom is always adding new things! Oh, and follow them on Facebook too – they have a thriving community of educators who are always reaching out and looking for unique connections.
  • Flipgrid (Grid Pals) – The amazing and wildly popular Flipgrid is widely known for its power to amplify student voice by allowing students to create video responses to prompts or topics – and kids LOVE it! Well, Flipgrid has a unique use that you may not have considered. It can basically work as an asynchronous option to connect and communicate with classes in time zones with which you wouldn’t typically be able to connect! They have a whole section on their website that explains how to use something called GridPals to find connections.

As an ambassador and enthusiast, I’d be happy to help you learn how to use any of these sites, or give you more resources to teach the SDGs, or put you in touch with others who are really passionate about this work, too! Let’s do this together. Share the chart above and linked resources with colleagues. Then, let’s all give our students the greatest gift of all – exposure to global classrooms and global issues that inspire action – and empathy.

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The Designer Donut Club 😔

Once upon a time….I attended one of my very first education conferences.  It was my second one, to be honest.  It was one of the free ones, open to everyone, widely publicized, and with a whole host of excellent sessions from which to choose.  I was a total newbie to this scene – and I was awestruck by how this whole world seemed to exist without me ever having known about it.  I had learned about it via Twitter, and I was still pretty new at that, too.

I was so exited to attend this big event that I drove about 75 minutes and arrived super early!  People in matching logo shirts greeted attendees enthusiastically at the high school’s front door, and they directed me to find my way to the big cafeteria in the back of the building.  I went to this event alone, I didn’t know anyone in the cafeteria, and I was still so new to this whole conference thing that I didn’t know anyone who would be at this event at all.  I was eager to learn, watch, and soak it all in, so I sat at one of those big round cafeteria tables that was right up front near the stage.  I sat alone for a few minutes, just looking around as people started to fill the space, wondering if anyone would sit at the table with me or if most people attended these things in groups with friends and fellow teachers.  In time, I got up and strolled over to the refreshment table to grab a bagel and a cup of coffee, smiling and saying hello to other people along the way.  I returned to my table, and soon another “solo” attendee joined me.  We  introduced ourselves, struck up a conversation, and I’m still friendly and connected with her to this day.  I was happy to learn that lots of people go to these things alone, and others soon joined us at our table.

The story I want to tell here is about The Designer Donut Club.  As I said, I was new, and so impressed with this whole culture, and eager to embrace it as a part of this remarkable community.  While I sat with my new acquaintances, making small talk as we got to know each other, I noticed that there was a group forming at a table that was front and center….right up at the stage.  There were about 10-12 people who obviously knew each other – they were smiling and laughing and well, sharing these two huge boxes of designer donuts that one of them had brought just for the people in this group. Now, I’m a grown-up and something like that probably shouldn’t have affected me in the way that it did, but I somehow sat there thinking, “those are the cool kids. They bring Designer Donuts just for their group”, and I just knew that it was an exclusive club. There were tables FULL of breakfast goodies set out by the event organizers, but this club stayed front and center, shared their Designer Donuts amongst themselves, and most definitely enjoyed being recognized by others.

This is a true story. It happened a few years ago, but obviously the memory and the feelings have stayed with me. And it’s metaphorically still happening at other conferences and ed events I attend.

In a time where we do so much discussion with our students about how to be inclusive, it bothers me that there are a actually EDUCATORS who don’t walk the walk, and who and continue to be clique-y, elitist, and exclusive.

I started this blog as a draft several months ago when I was upset because I had seen some of this behavior again at a workshop I attended this summer. I’m finishing this blog today, because I was at an amazing conference last week and I just witnessed the same type of thing once again. I am so bothered by the fact that educators actually act this way. If, by any chance, you happen to become an “educator with influence “, please, please, please don’t become a Designer Donut person. When you go to conference, or even an edcamp, don’t sit at the front with all of your buddies. Don’t make it a point to hobnob with the “in crowd” and “be seen” as one of them. Sit in the middle of the room and make friends with people who happen to be sitting alone. Share a hello and a hug with the newbies or the shy people in the room. Branch off from the people that you know and make new friends from the people who are really just there to learn. Follow them on Twitter and retweet them. Ask THEM if you could have the honor of getting a selfie with THEM! Make everyone feel welcome and special!

I know that there are some people have been told that they are “edu-rockstars” for so long that it’s gone to their heads. Here’s the deal – even actual rock stars lose their fan base if they’re not approachable, sincere, and humble. Exclusivity has no place in our world in which we educators so often preach about spreading kindness and putting a stop to bullying.

I recently gave a presentation about how we can help students develop empathy through global connectedness. This was my favorite slide from that presentation:

bridges walls

As educators, role models, and human beings, it is my sincere hope that within our amazing community we all strive to put up fewer walls and build more bridges.


 

I always love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and reactions, so please feel free to comment on this blog post here on WordPress, or you can always find me on Twitter as @kerszi.  I also run a Facebook page called Integration Innovation.