The ‘Not So’ Secret Ingredient


Empathy is glue.  The most important, and (not so) secret, ingredient that a learner (educator or student) can possess.  This magic sauce holds together all other innovative traits, and gives purpose and meaning to our work with kids, our work with one another, and our work as contributors of  a future rooted in equity and love.

I love this @sylviaduckworth sketch of @gcurous‘s 8 traits of an innovative mindset.  Notice EMPATHY as characteristic #1:


Consider a networked, creative, problem finding, risk taker.   Sounds like the makings of an amazing innovator, right?!  Observant, resilient, creators would certainly impact student lives –  BUT, I would argue that without empathy, the most important ingredient binding these innovative traits together, our work falls flat.

It is empathy that fosters thought patterns of love and equity.

Empathy truly impacts the future.

The horrific events of this past weekend only drive home the point that all of the education in the world; all of the creativity; all of the innovation- is all for not, without it being wrapped in empathy, kindness, equality, and love.

Empathy Kindness


Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  It’s important to really ponder and consider this in our roles as school leaders, educators, learners, parents, colleagues, and friends.  I wonder, sometimes: Is empathy really achievable?  How can I with all my unique thoughts and experiences, truly understand and share the feelings of another?  How could I, with my female, white, middle-class biases, truly understand what it’s like to be a person of color?  Empathy then, needs to extend beyond saying simply, “I know how you feel”, and move toward truly creating space for recognizing where our shortcomings and biases influence our very ability to be empathetic.

Consider how we display empathy to our family members, colleagues, and students.  What about our neighbors, acquaintances…strangers?   Should empathy be shown to those who disagree with our own opinions and even our passions?   How do we meet differences in opinion when those differences are a stark contrast to our personal beliefs, morals, and ethics?   Should we have empathy for all, or only those who share our opinions and beliefs?   Is there a limit, perimeter, or restriction associated with the love and empathy we display?

Love and empathy should rule our classrooms, but also our hearts and minds.  I believe this love and empathy should be unrestrained, unrestricted, and know no bounds.


So what does unbound love and empathy look like in the classroom? We can’t pretend to understand the feelings of our students or faculty, having not physically been in their shoes.  Instead, let’s commit to fostering an environment that confronts biases and values empathy as the most important ingredient in our classrooms, and our lives:

  1. Listen. Let’s truly listen to our students; our colleagues who share a difference in opinions; our leaders who hold different viewpoints. Listen for understanding and discuss with patience and love.
  2. Ask questions. We can’t know what something is like without probing and pondering the scenarios of which we have had no experience.  Ask questions and then actively listen to the responses.
  3. Identify biases.  Provide opportunity to recognize biases that exist in ourselves and our students.  Model and encourage self reflection as a way to confront these biases.


Let’s make building empathy in ourselves and others the focus of our work here on Earth.  Doing so will create an environment where the other 7 innovative mindset characteristics can thrive.

8 thoughts on “The ‘Not So’ Secret Ingredient

  1. Empathy is such an important quality, and something I think is lacking in society in general. I see so many situations in life that could be made so much better if the parties showed some empathy towards each other.


  2. I totally agree that empathy is the key to building relationships that foster success in the classroom for our students. Without a strong connection the learning does not come – we must connect with the heart before we can guide the learning.


  3. And through focusing on empathy ourselves we are modeling for our students. We must help students become empathetic as well. Through the use of literature, social studies, etc. Help them view their world through different lenses.


  4. Pingback: Honouring the Process – The Meaning of Meraki

  5. Pingback: Grace | #Oneword2018 | brave pedagogy

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