Connecting Kids to the World, One Class at a Time: Meet Empatico

Last updated on March 4th, 2018 at 02:21 pm

Empatico is the newest initiative of The Kind Foundation.

It is a free learning tool, an online platform designed to digitally connect classrooms from across the globe. The project wants to promote empathy in children by showing them how diverse the international community is. Teachers are able to connect to other classrooms and together they complete activities using live video conferencing.

We at Pediatric Safety thought this was a brilliant idea, so we caught up with Empatico’s Business Development Manager Christina Bruno and asked her to tell us more about the project.

Where did the inspiration for Empatico come from? 

Our vision is to create meaningful moments for students and teachers to realize the world is a bigger place than they knew and to foster a lifetime of curiosity, kindness, and empathy. When we started out, we knew many teachers were already doing this work – connecting their classrooms and providing unforgettable experiences for their students to meet peers around the world – and we wanted to make it as easy as possible so that more classrooms, no matter what their experience, have an opportunity to connect. Making global connections in order to understand our shared humanity has been a long-term passion of our founder, our team, and the educators we worked with to build Empatico, and we also believe it is particularly relevant in this current climate.

How has the feedback on the project been so far?

Teachers are already sharing with us the positive impact Empatico has had on their students. They’re learning what other communities look like, how their peers from different places play and contribute to their communities, and they’re starting to realize their commonalities and become curious about their differences. We’ve also received feedback on how easy it is to use Empatico – teachers are automatically matched with another classroom based on their availability and interest in activities, and our activity plans provide teachers with all the resources they need for a successful connection. We’re in our early days, though, and we know the opportunity to bring this experience to many more students is still ahead of us.

Perspective is one of the greatest allies in creating a more compassionate world. What other steps do you think parents and teachers can take to help children gain a broader perspective as they grow up?

We completely agree! Parents and teachers can do many things in their day-to-day conversations with children to reinforce the skills taught in Empatico activities, like critical thinking and perspective-taking. For example, parents and teachers can challenge assumptions and encourage students to explore the world to find out their own answers by asking questions about new experiences, like traveling to a new place or meeting new people. It’s important for children to realize that many people they meet will have a unique way of perceiving the world and a different way of doing things than they do. When children recognize such differences, help them get into the habit of asking: “What is life like for that person? Are there other pieces to the story that I’m missing?” Parents and teachers can show children the value in learning from different perspectives and help them understand how different perspectives can influence behavior as well as change over time. This can be reinforced in role play exercises or when reading stories, watching movies, or even during discussions with peers.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome while developing this initiative?

One of the greatest challenges we face is how to bring live video connections to as many classrooms as possible around the world, even if they have limited access to technology. Empatico was designed as a classroom-to-classroom experience rather than a student-to-student experience as a way to partially solve this challenge, so classrooms only require one device rather than many. Of course, there’s never a guarantee that technology will work perfectly, but we hope to make it significantly easier. We’ve also made it a priority to open access and target outreach to countries all over the world, rather than restrict access.

We also face the challenge of this kind of virtual connection being a regular part of school–on the whole, few teachers regularly teach this way. There are many teachers who have been pioneers in global connection and education, and we hope Empatico can help encourage many many more teachers to use technology in this way. We believe the right tool can help move global education and connection from the pioneer teachers to the masses, and we think making an easy and intuitive tool like Empatico plays a big part in achieving this goal. All students deserve the opportunity to see the world.

The website says you are currently in the beginning stages of this project. How large do you anticipate it becoming in the future? What other features can we look forward to seeing?

By the end of 2020, our hope is to reach more than one million students. To accomplish this goal, we’ll focus first and foremost on building a great tool for and with teachers. In parallel, we’ll work with partners, including NGOs in the education space, networks of schools and teachers, districts, and Ministries of Education to build awareness and increase adoption. New features will depend largely on the feedback we receive from our earliest users. A few potential areas of expansion include providing content for different age groups (beyond 8-10 year olds), offering translation to languages beyond English, and providing asynchronous opportunities for classrooms to connect when live video is not possible. 

What is your favorite part of being involved in this initiative?

I’m excited to be part of something bigger that can potentially change the way people perceive and interact with each other around the world. If you think about the ripple effects of reaching students early in life with an experience like Empatico, we have the potential to reach millions of people over time.

My favorite part is that it’s hard to choose just one reason to love Empatico… Our activities prepare students for future success by building 21st century skills like respectful communication, critical thinking, perspective-taking, and collaboration. And we combine the best parts of technology with the best aspects of humanity to ultimately help students better navigate their classrooms, communities, and world. What’s not to love?!

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After we found out about Empatico, we mentioned it to one of our PedSafe Experts, internationally recognized child character development and empathy expert Dr. Michele Borba. As it turns out, not only had she heard of it, but she had already spoken to them about the project.

We asked her to share her thoughts with us.

“New research reveals that empathy plays a surprising role in predicting kids’ happiness and success. Rather than being a nice “add-on” to our kids’ development-it is, in fact, integral to their current and future success, happiness, and well-being. And empathy the good news is that it is a quality that can be taught and a talent that kids can improve, like riding a bike or learning a foreign language.”

 

“We are more likely to empathize with those “like us”- our same gender, race, income, educational background, and culture. But we are raising our children in a global world where they will be exposed to differences. It’s why Forbes urges companies to adopt empathy and perspective-taking principles and the Harvard Business Review named it as one of the essential ingredients for leadership success and excellent performance.” Helping children step out of their comfort zones, widen their circles of caring and experience different perspectives: like visiting museums, reading books with diverse characters, having a variety of friends. Empatico is a powerful way to open their hearts to children of different cultures. It’s all why we must get kids to switch their focus from “I, Me, My. Mine” to “We, Us, Our, Ours.” And it’s up to adults to offer real and meaningful experiences to help them do so.”

 

Michele Borba, Ed.D. author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

Cultivating empathy is without a doubt one of the most important things we can do to progress our global society. We are grateful for businesses and authors like The Kind Foundation and Dr. Borba for setting an example and helping create positive change.

About the Author

Clara is a lifelong writer who recently became stepmom to an energetic seven-year-old boy. She has a BA in journalism from the University of Alabama and has written on a variety of subjects including social issues, politics, and music. A yoga practitioner and foodie with a deep passion for health and wellness, she seeks to use her education and experience to help individuals create better lives for themselves and their children. Clara is currently living in Atlanta with her husband and her 80lb ridgeback mix. Clara is a member of the PedSafe Team

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