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The Empathy Movement in K12 Education

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On January 30, 2016, the super fun Design Camp SD took place in San Diego, California. It was organized by the spectacular and yet very humble Dr. Eric Chagala, Founding Principal of Vista Innovation and Design Middle School, Kaleb Rashad, Principal at Westwood Elementary School, and Joseph Erpelding, Principal at Design39Campus, all in the San Diego area. The first part of this exciting professional development day was led by Grant Lichtman who took 150 curious educators through a Design Thinking challenge. Like The Connect Group, Grant uses MVIFI's DEEPdt method of Design Thinking. After discovering, empathizing, prototyping, and integrating new ways of learning and sharing, educators selected from a series of 45 minute and 90 minute workshops facilitated by various experts in Design Thinking. Dr. Moss Pike, from Harvard Westlake School, was there promoting playful engagement with content to highlight students' classroom experience when designing curricula. Dr. Pike particularly emphasized the importance of story when designing curriculum, and uses Design Thinking to promote storytelling as key pedagogical strategies. Christopher Patten, Associate Director of Design Thinking at the Henry Ford Learning Institute came all the way from Detroit, Michigan to facilitate a workshop on incorporating design challenges in schools. Additionally, I was there to facilitate a workshop on empathy; brought my Empathy Toy along, and also tested a prototype I iterated with Edwin Rutsch.

Edwin is the founding director of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy, and used Acumen's Human Centered Design process to iterate Empathy Circles as a means of promoting empathy. The co-founders of The Connect Group School and I joined Edwin for his 6th 10-week design challenge iterating the Empathy Circle for K12 classrooms. The whole experience was most transformational for all parties! We are thrilled to welcome Edwin to our team as Chief Empathy Officer of The Connect Group. Edwin brings over eight years of leadership in developing a global empathy movement. His website is home to the internet's most extensive archive of material on empathy. In his effort to promote a world of connection, understanding, healing, and creativity, Edwin interviewed over 300 of the world's experts on empathy on his Dialogs on Empathy video show.

In order to promote EmpathicEducation for a CompassionateNation, The Connect Group's leadership team expanded fairly significantly. In addition to Edwin becoming our Chief Empathy Officer, we welcome Wendy Taira, as our Chief Operating Officer. Wendy brings years of dedication and experience in finance, business administration, policy analysis, and non-profit administration. With theater experience, she is uniquely poised to understand the dramaturgical consciousness that is a critical component of 21st century education. When she became a mother herself, Wendy dedicated herself to progressive education. She shares her time with Classical Conversations, delivering song and music based instruction in geography, history, math, science, language arts, and Latin. Since 2014, Wendy has had a hand in every aspect of The Connect Group, from being a co-founder of The Connect Group School to operations, fundraising, outreach, program development, communications, and even Design Thinking too! Wendy was one of the participants in Edwin's 10-week design challenge on Empathy Circles, which was not the first one for her, but definitely the most intense! As a Chief Operating Officer, Wendy is an incredible force to reckon with!

Two student co-founders of The Connect Group School are also joining the leadership team as Lead Program Facilitators. After 18 months of active learning, discovering, empathizing, experimenting, and prototyping, we found that the students we collaborated with became fairly skilled in Design Thinking, leading group instruction, exploring systemic educational problems, as well as integrating traditional, progressive, and modern pedagogical methods to address Educational Trauma. Lewis Tachau and Chase Tachau are credited with creating EmpathicEducation for a CompassionateNation, along with Wendy and I, and others in our community.

Both Lewis and Chase represent the type of students 21st century education wishes to inspire. They are motivated, self-directed, organized, kind, respectful, empathic, and compassionate. They entered college at 16 and 15 respectively, concurrent with co-founding and co-designing The Connect Group School. Lewis has been co-leading compassion and self-compassion workshops with me since 2014. He's been challenging education since his 2012 TEDx talk at age 13, on the educational benefits of online gaming. His TEDx talk was well received and a major studio reached out to him afterwards. Despite having no acting experience, Lewis became a contender for the lead role in a major feature production. Lewis has been cultivating his dramaturgical consciousness for sometime, as well as his meditation practice. This past summer he spent 11 days on a wilderness retreat, including 36 hours alone in the woods.

Lewis is joined by Chase who has a 4.0 GPA in college - at the age of 16. Chase's focus in the arts led to collaboration with #DTK12chat moderators of the weekly Twitter Chat on how to integrate Design Thinking into K12 education. Together they designed a logo for a sticker that moderators used to promote the chat at #SXSWedu in 2015. He also helped Los Angles artist April Bey install her latest piece #Gradient, at the SKIN exhibit at the LA Multicultural Center. Chase currently assists me by co-leading professional development seminars for educators in Design Thinking. His zest for life, art, and outdoor education are a joyful addition to everything we do together!

It is a very inspiring time to be a part of the Design Thinking movement in K12 education, especially as we bring Edwin's Empathy Circles to schools everywhere. The leaders of Design Camp SD are creating a ground swell movement to innovate education, prompt deeper learning and creativity, while inspiring empathic relationships at the heart of it all. I am incredibly privileged and grateful to be at the intersection of these organizations, leading The Connect Group in promoting EmpathicEducation for a CompassionateNation.

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