How would you feel if someone threw you a surprise birthday party?

Elated. Mortified. In shock. Overjoyed.

When a question starts with, “how would you feel if…” it’s usually pretty easy to get into the mindset that makes up the remainder of that question. I do it with my toddler all the time: “My love, how would you feel if someone put play doh in your hair?” It allows for self-reflection that perhaps she hadn’t considered before she put the play doh in that person’s hair and maybe she’ll think twice before she puts play doh in a person’s hair again (READ: my hair).

We ask this question all the time when we are sad (“how would you feel if someone ate your last slice of pie?”), mad (“how would you feel if someone beat you at Monopoly?!”), adventurous (“how would you feel if we went to France for a vacation?”), and the list goes on.

When it comes to course design and teaching, it’s this type of mentality we ought to put ourselves in and the question we ought be asking ourselves. How would you feel if your boss assigned you two major reports in a week and oh, can you attend such-and-such group meeting on this day and this day, and oh yeah, I forgot, but we’ll have our big-big boss coming in to ask us questions about all of that stuff at year-end.  Ugh, I feel overwhelmed just typing it.  Now, let’s re-work that original question a little bit and start it with, “If you were a student…” If you felt anxious when it was you, that sentence would still apply with that predicate added on.

In other words, there’s a need for empathy.  Pretty simple, right? Absolutely.  The issue is, as educators (SMEs, Content experts, “pros”) what is so second-nature to us in terms of theory, teaching, and course “flow” is brand new to our students!  Essentially, any time an iteration of our course is offered or redeveloped, we should be considering the course design, activities, and it’s content as if we know nothing (or very little) about the subject.

I won’t go on a tirade here about all of the benefits to implementing empathy into your teaching and course design process, there are a lot of experts out there who have written some really great things (see Lisa Fisher’s blog post: The Power of Empathy in Design Thinking for Education ), but I wanted to introduce the idea of “empathy immersion” within our practice as it is something very important to me and something that I hope we can go exploring in this blog adventure.

For now, I will leave this little piece of food for thought: how would you feel if you were at the forefront of YOUR teacher’s minds when you were in school?

Think about it…






3 Replies to “How would you feel if someone threw you a surprise birthday party?”

  1. Hey Kelly.

    This is a challenging question requiring some self-reflection, and honesty, no?

    In confess that I try to balance the learning needs of students with my own needs for order and the structuring of the learning experience. I think I try to go for 80 :: 20, student :: instructor, and have learned over the years that the fun happens when you can give students as much leeway to be architects of their own learning as possible. But to do so also requires a structural safety net so nobody gets hurt.


    1. Thanks for the comment, David!
      I think that anytime we empathize, there is a component of self-reflection that’s needed. Dr. Brene Brown’s explanation that Joanne Kehoe showed us at the Ontario Extend Summer institute highlights that empathy is a “vulnerable choice” we need to connect with.
      I don’t think being empathetic means we need to abandon our needs when teaching, rather it’s about identifying what our most important needs are within the course (marking in a timely manner, ensuring students grasp this concept and that concept), conceptualizing your approach to teaching or delivering those pieces and then asking, “if I were a student, how would I feel if… I had two major essays due in two weeks or …if I was introduced to the concept of x, would I need to know w first and how would my blogging about x really drive that concept home?”
      The more that consideration is being given for everyone, the more “fun” of a learning/teaching experience it will be for all involved.
      In course design and teaching, empathetic immersion ought to work on all fronts in order to be successful and it is about knowing your needs and being connected to the students on a personal level as much as it is about knowing the students needs on an academic level.

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