Global Collaboration and Empathy

ISTE Student Standard 7: Global Collaborator

Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
7a. Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.

The wording of ISTE Standard 7 just sings for me. More than anything, I want students who have spent some time in my classroom and working through my curriculum, to step into the next phase of their lives with a greater understanding of who they are, who they are in the universe, and how they can use their talents and understandings of life to make a difference in the lives of others. Based on this ISTE Standard, I want to explore the following question:

Can teachers use local and global collaboration to encourage and develop students’ capacity for empathy?

If you’ve been around kids aged 11-14 for any length of time, you have probably noticed two things: 1) They are me-focussed. 2) but often, they are generous and kind. I have watched the pendulum swing between ‘it’s all about me‘ and ‘I can help you’ for nearly two decades as a Middle school teacher.

My best example of this happens at the giving times of the year, like Christmas or Valentine’s day. As November comes to an end, we start planning the end-of-year class Christmas party. Should we have a secret Santa? Should we put exactly what we want on a slip of paper or leave our gift to chance? Should we pool our money and get Pizza? And then I say, “Why don’t we make or buy gifts to give to [fill in the blank].” Student response: Consternation. And then I show a video, or have a speaker, or show some pictures of others who might benefit from their gifts, and all of a sudden…the pendulum swings…and the next thing I know we are making friendship bracelets and taking them to Children’s Hospital.

While researching a good definition for EMPATHY, the following headline in an article from the University of Kansas News Service caught my eye:


The research (co-authored by Anne Williford, associate professor of social welfare at KU) defines cognitive empathy as the ability to take another person’s perspective.

“We found cognitive empathy declined as the students transitioned from late childhood into early adolescence, which coincides with the transition from elementary to middle school,” Williford said.

KU News Service (2016)

The researchers point out that it seems prudent to introduce activities that support the development of cognitive empathy from fourth grade and through the middle school years.

In my experience, middle school students are quirky and wonderful, and yes, they do have the capacity for empathy. Our job as teachers is to nurture this capacity; to give opportunities for students to practice empathy, not just talk or write about it as a class assignment. And the only way to do that is to get them to take their eyes off themselves and to direct their focus to the experience of others.

Should empathy be integrated into the curriculum?

Well, there’s the dilemma. Researchers Bialystok and Kukar, in a paper titled Authenticity and empathy in education, refer to a study by  Vorauer and Sasaki (2009) which refers to the difficulty students find in fully empathizing with people who are different from themselves. Even though students do show evidence of empathy while engaged in abstract classroom exercises in which they are expected to use their imaginations to engage with people who are different from themselves, once they have a real-life encounter with a person who is from an ‘outgroup’, their awareness shifts from that person and back onto themselves. Their particular concern is how the person from the ‘outgroup’ perceives them.

Bialystok and Kukar question the efficacy of teaching empathy without properly interrogating the issue of empathy. They suggest that the typical means of integrating empathy into a curriculum leads to ‘passive‘ empathy. The reading of a novel, for example, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, or reflecting on topical news items, analyzing relevant drama, or listening to a guest speaker are typical ways teachers use to move students toward an understanding of common humanity, which unfortunately seldom translate into action.

No dilemma for me though. My answer is yes. Empathy needs to be practiced. My middle school students need to do both, abstractly imagine what it is like to walk in another man’s shoes, and then be challenged to move to action.

Should teachers intentionally teach empathy?

Yes, because of course, we want our students to be kind, caring individuals.

But also, according to Thom Markham, there is educational value to having students who practice empathy.

Empathy has the potential to open up students to deeper learning, drive clarity of thinking, and inspire engagement with the world—in other words, provide the emotional sustenance for outstanding human performance.

Thom Markham (2016)

Why should I have my students reach outside of the classroom to classes in other communities here or around the world? Because I want my students to be outstanding people, doing outstanding things to help our world become a better place for all.

Pure academics are giving way to increased opportunities for students to work together; teachers increasingly take on the role of co-learner and facilitator; listening, learning, and teaming are the new core skills

Taken all together, this makes empathy critical to schools. In fact, very soon we will need to invent a  new taxonomy of learning that makes empathy the base of the learning pyramid.

Thom Markham (2016)

How can teachers teach empathy?

According to Markham, our pedagogy has to change.

It’s time to act on the assumption that knowledge is flowing through students, not being delivered to them, and that the chief skill is openness. That means, for the foreseeable future, empathy is learning. This is the game-changer.

Thom Markham (2017)

According to The Buck Institute, student work has to become authentic. Real-world problem-solving.

With a challenging problem that is truly authentic, students will see the importance of building empathy. Empathy with their real-world audience or end-user helps students focus on what the real problem is that needs attention. With their problem clearly defined, they will find themselves invested in inquiry as they are ideating solutions or products. Chris Fancher

Resources for teachers

There are a TON of resources for teachers to use, among them:

  • Common Sense Education has a curated list of Virtual Field Trips
  • Microsoft has Skype in the Classroom which connects teachers and students in classrooms across the world to each other, to experts in the field, to virtual field trips

I found the following global collaboration websites and include them because they are new to me, but look wonderful I’m looking forward to investigating them further.

Belouga: The tagline for this website is where students and teachers learn about the world, with the world. According to tho their website, the mission of Belouga is to make education impactful and accessible on a global scale through peer-to-peer and classroom connection, communication, and collaboration. They aim to provide students and teachers with a wealth of real-world learning initiatives, sourced from global organizations and customized to their educational goals and curiosity, followed by action items where they can put their learning to work in their own communities to create impact.
Read this Belouga case study: Developing a world of global citizens, for inspiration.

I found The Kidnected World website so inspiring. They say: This entire world will change in a generation. We believe that if you connect the young global citizens who inhabit it, they will turn it into one of unprecedented imagination, understanding, respect, and discovery. We exist to build the tools and spaces where this kind of connection is possible and tied to tangible impact for good—supporting the kids who will create this future with the means and confidence to make it a reality.

The Wonderment is their first initiative. It is a global collaborative learning experience that encourages students to follow a PATH – to find out about other communities, collaborate with others, to post a challenge to the world.
Here’s an example of one called Soccer Love. Two students create a video of them playing soccer with kids in the Andes mountains and then throw out a challenge for students all around the world to show us where they play soccer! Students from all over create their own video responses which everyone can see.

Wonderment also encourages students to collaborate on a PROJECT – taking action in their own community, getting support, and showing the world their progress.
Here is an example called Mobile Library Bus where students in Guatemala from Colegio Mesoamericano go to public schools and read to children. The whole project is outlined, and each aspect of the project is shared. Here is a reflection from one of the students: Above all, it creates an environment where two groups who think they are different, generate connections among each other, and at the end of the day just have fun together.

Empatico: This website states that they aim to empower teachers and students to explore the world through experiences that spark curiosity, kindness, and empathy. Empatico targets students ages 6-11.
Empatico makes finding a class from a different country easy. They help you find and connect with another teacher based on student ages, classroom schedules, and activities. Then, using their platform you can instant message or video chat with the teacher, upload pictures and videos to shared folders to introduce your students to your partner class, and collaborate on projects curated by Empatico or others.

I highly recommend reading Empatico’s blog. I especially want to highlight a blog written by Jamie Antoun, Bukola Amao-Taiwo, and Todd Hall, How Empathy Comes to Life on Empatico, who explore two stories from teachers who use Empatico to reveal the power of empathy in the classroom.


Antoun, J., Amao-Taiwo, B., Hall, T. (2019, October 23). How empathy comes to life on empatico. Empatico.

Collaboration: on the edge of a new paradigm. Retrieved from

Francher, C. (2019, August 21). Supporting PBL with a design thinking framework. PBL Blog.

ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from

Markham, T. (2016, November 6). Why Empathy Holds the Key to Transforming 21St Century Learning. Edgucation Blog.

Markham, T. (2017, December 3). In our connected world, what if empathy is learning? Edgucation Blog.

Skype in the Classroom

Virtual field trips apps and websites. Retrieved from