Using Empathy to Craft the Message

Today while reading Thomas Friedman’s post entitled, Clinton’s Fibs, and Her Opponents’ Double Whoppers, I was struck by an assignment for students to tackle. While I respect Mr. Friedman, the idea came from one of the 488 comments that the article generated. The majority of the commenters were either in favor or against Friedman’s position.

It was Clement Kwong’s comment that really challenged me.

“That point is – it’s not about Trump or his obvious fallacies. The outrage and indignation at his comments should not be directed through media channels that are currently being used to do so, nor in the form (your article exemplary thereof) that these reactions are being communicated. To have any significant impact on Trump’s supporters, any message revealing his lies, idiocy, mean-ness, ignorance should be sent through channels which reach such supporters and in a form which can appeal to their social attitudes, language ability and literacy, preferably without demeaning their social status.

That language that you write in, this newspaper you express yourself in, even the complexity of the ideas, however warranted, in the message that is this article completely miss the mark. In this paper, you largely preach to the converted, as a Catholic priest might have done so in Latin in the medieval era.

Wake up. Find a way to say you want to say to the people who should hear this message. This is not it.”

There seems to be quite a bit of shouting going on in politics right now and most of the arguments are missing the mark with opponents. Since working at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School I’ve learned a ton about design thinking and the importance of using empathy in the process. The design thinking process can be very effective when teaching students to craft arguments that are targeted to a certain audience. Instead of totally disregarding the opponent, what if we taught them to study them to learn more about what is important to them? Through the DEEP DT process, students can produce more effective means of communication to sway their audience.

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I can imagine how powerful the interviews that students will conduct will be. They will truly gain a better understanding of the other person’s views and then tailor their argument based on this knowledge.


Jumping Right into Design Thinking – Part 1

Jumping in Pool

I have always been someone who likes using defined processes groups. Probably the most useful workshop that I ever attended was David Langford’s Quality Learning seminar. I have used his tools for problem solving as an individually and with groups for years. For several years now I have been wanting to learn more about design thinking because the concept seems sensible and interesting. Instead of solving problems this focuses on finding solutions by learning about the  stakeholders. So, instead of taking the time to attend a workshop I decided to jump right in and learn by doing. Thankfully, IDEO has a free online toolkit to guide me through the process and my colleagues are game for trying something new.

For several years we have struggled with our annual week long trips in the high school. For one week in September the entire high school travels to four different locations in Brazil. The groups are organized by grade level and there have been two objectives.

To gain a deeper appreciation and knowledge of Brazil – The trips provide students with real life experiences within Brazil. Trips may focus on…

  • exploring various cultural aspects of the respective community.
  • environmental issues in the community.
  • sustainable development and the economic environment in the community.
  • fun activities that are representative of the community.

To develop relationships within our community – The trips are an excellent opportunity for students and teachers to start the year off by learning about each other in a non-classroom setting. In doing so, students and teachers can build an appreciation for others and a respect for differences. Relationship building may occur in the following ways: 

  • team building activities
  • discussion groups focused on objective #1
  • group projects
  • informal dialogue throughout the trip

We have also been working, with mixed success, to link the trips to course curricula. Each year we get mixed reviews from students and teachers and we feel like we just haven’t gotten them right yet. The factor that tipped the scale is that for two years in a row we had a large number of seniors decide to not travel with their classmates. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the design thinking process a chance.

After reviewing the trips from this year and that past we have defined our challenge, set a timeline and gathered the information that we have on hand.

“Redesign the experiences to make them indispensable and unforgettable so that the mission and core values come to to life.”

We’re now in the research phase where we define exactly what we need to learn from our students and teachers and look for inspiration from various sources. With that information we’ll work in teams to develop prototypes of trips for review. There is still much work to do but we all seem to feel that there are plenty of possibilities for making the trips “indispensable and unforgettable”

I’d love to hear ideas and suggestions from design thinking experts that are out there. We’re definitely going to need support throughout the process.

This photo, “8579 S jumps into pool” By WoofBC under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, modified slightly from original

My Digital Tattoo: A pleasant surprise

On our recent 10th grade trip to Salvador, Bahia we had students create 6-Word Reflections. In one of our meetings one of the teachers showed examples for the kids to learn from. Imagine my surprise when one of the examples was a 6-word story that I created years ago. It was even before I started working at Graded. It’s was one of those moment, “hey, that’s my photo!” The teacher just happened to find it in her search for examples and she noticed that it was mine. This just goes to show you that you never know when your online work will show up.


You can find this one and others at the 6 Word Story Project.
You can find this one and others at the 6 Word Story Project.


When do we get the chance to get the creative juices flowing?

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”
Walter Lippmann

I’ve had the luxury of not working this school year and It’s been the best sharpening of the saw that I can imagine. Today I’ve been contemplating creative thinking and how excited I get about letting my mind wander to create new ideas (at least they’re new to me). For people like me I have to really work at being creative and it takes time to put serious thought into something, scanning the work of others who look at things differently, and exercising the right brain.

Want a few ideas that may light a fire under you creative juices?

1. I occasionally pull out Fredrik Haren’s book, The Idea Book, when I need to exercise my brain. The book “inspires creative people to be more creative, and It teaches uncreative people how to develop their creativity.” It’s full of quotes, exercises and space to write down thoughts. Use it to come up with 50 ways to use a brick, develop a metaphor for your idea, think of 50 different solutions to a problem, invent new words in order to invent new ideas, do the opposite of what people would normally do, and much much more.

2. I wasn’t able to attend ASB’s Unplugged this year but I’ve already taken a look at Scott Klososky’s presentation on Creativity and Innovation. I’m somewhat familiar with Scott’s work and I love his forward thinking approach. Want some ideas on how to develop your next outstanding presentation? Take a look at his slides. He uses excellent design principles. I only wish that I was there for the entire session.

3. Tonight I watched these two music videos by OK Go with my children. My son said that he loved the video even though the music was OK. I love imagining the planning sessions that led to these two very innovative videos.

This to Shall Pass by OK Go

Here it Goes Again, by OK Go

What do you do to develop your right brain?

I want to find visuals/photos that match the motivational quotes that I’ve chosen to put on notecards that I can use in my school. This seems like a very good exercise to get the juices flowing.