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Empthy: a Global Education Conference session proposal

I plan to participate in the 4th annual Global Education Conference to be held November 18th to the 22nd. And I encourage you to do so as well. The event is described as:

...a collaborative, inclusive, world-wide community initiative involving students, educators, and organizations at all levels. It is designed to significantly increase opportunities for building education-related connections around the globe while supporting cultural awareness and recognition of diversity. Last year’s conference featured 400 general sessions and 20 keynote addresses from all over the world with over 13,000 participant logins.

In my work with international schools, I've come to realize we all have more challenges in common than challenges that are unique to us.  Among those challenges is identifying with any degree of certainty what skills and dispositions our students must develop and master for career and personal fulfillment.

Skills - in math, in reading, in writing - and basic content area facts - in history, in literature, in science, in government - get a lot of attention. These "hard" skills have been taught for a long time and are fairly easy to measure on objective tests. Happily problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and information-fluency are increasingly mentioned as well.

But I would argue that without attention to soft skills, whether we call them dispositions or habits of mind or right brain skills - the hard skills aren't much good except in helping one pass a test. And the "soft skill" that I've been think a lot about lately is empathy - the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view. In engaging with a global community, the difficulty level of being empathetic correlates directly to the degree of difference between oneself and another person culturally and geographically. (In other words, the more different we are, the tougher it is to get into each other's heads.)

Empathy is too often thought of as a feel-good, let's all join hands and sing, multicultural tolerance, respect and appreciation, and even, perhaps, a subtle form of cultural snobbery. But anyone who looks down on empathy as a means of simply being a  nicer person is sadly mistaken. 

The ability to genuinely understand what others need, value, respect, and fear is critical to business, political, and personal success.

I am giving myself until November 18th to learn enough about it so I can leave anyone attending my session "confused at a higher level."

Your Name and Title: Doug Johnson, Director of Media and Technology
School or Organization Name: Mankato Area Public Schools
Co-Presenter Name(s):
Area of the World from Which You Will Present: United States
Language in Which You Will Present: English
Target Audience(s): All
Short Session Description (one line): I will discuss concrete ways of helping students look at situations through the eyes of those who are different from them, building the critical skill of empathy for global relations and success in today's world.
Full Session Description (as long as you would like): Walking a Mile in Another's Moccasins: Purposefully Developing Empathy. This session will define empathy and describe how it is critical to building successful relationships - business, political, and personal - in a global community. Several concrete suggestions with examples for building empathic abilities in students (and in ourselves) will be discussed.
Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session:


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Reader Comments (8)

I think this will be an outstanding presentation. As someone who focuses a lot on helping youth in the classroom to develop their dispositions, habits of mind, attitudes, etc, I have found it very useful to use 'topics' like empathy as a central theme while planning instruction. Specifically, by organizing relevant literature, especially with international topics, and inquiring into Empathy as a literary theme, an authentic connection is made between literacy, empathy, & international mindedness. The same can be applied to other themes or attitudes. Best luck with your presentation, I hope to be able to tune in!

September 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBart Miller

Hi Bart,

Thanks for this. If you have any resources you'd be willing to share, I'd appreciate it. I'd give you full credit, of course.


September 11, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I just shared some materials with you via google drive. It's not much, but I think you might find something relevant to your presentation.

September 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBart Miller

A belated thank you! You will get full credit.


September 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

This Event "Global Education Conference" is really mind blowing, i appreciate to your work!

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermywritingspot

Thanks, James. I hope my proposal is accepted.


October 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug - I just registered to attend the Global Ed conference and was so happy to see your proposal! I'll definitely be tuning in from The Netherlands. I've been reading a lot about empathy lately for my own work and found the October 5 article in the New York Times "Rich People Just Care Less" really interesting (

I agree with you - it's important to be able to look at something (everything really - a decision, a behavior, a viewpoint) from another person's shoes to really understand. In the NYT article, author Daniel Goleman sites research studies that show that interpersonal contact can help us move from looking at someone as "other" to "just like me." A really important step on the road to empathy.

One reason I'm particularly interested in this is that I recently released the One Globe Kids app, which aims to help kids 3 - 8 years old experience life somewhere else together with a real peer from places as diverse as Burundi, Indonesia, The Netherlands, Haiti and New York City. The idea is to give kids a new perspective on the "other" as soon as they can remember things - have them grow up remembering that Valdo in Haiti has parents and a home and a school and a new bike, just like they do. Even if the home has no electricity or running water and it takes him 2 hours each direction to get to school. Help kids recognize first what we have in common with the goal of helping them look at and treat people everywhere as equals, reducing prejudice and creating a better world.

I'd love to hear what you think. .....Anne

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

Hi Anne,

Thanks so much for the link to the NYTimes article - I missed it.

Here is sort of what I will base my talk on - a column I wrote a few years ago:

Thanks for info about the One Globe Kids app. I will be looking for great examples of empathy building activities to share!


October 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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