Our administration is elated that a donation of this magnitude has provided our district with the gift of global connectedness. At this point, most of our teachers have signed up for Empatico, most have received the professional development they need to feel confident using the platform, and many have already completed a first connection – and these numbers continue to increase every day. Each and every one of them has embraced this opportunity with open arms. Our students are absolutely enthralled by the ability to see and talk to other students from all over the world. Our families and community are beginning to see the impact this experience is having on their children, and we have truly begun to #SparkEmpathy through Empatico.
I’d love to share how we achieved such a successful district-wide rollout with Empatico. I’ve broken it down into six steps to help you become an #EmpaticoDistrict, too!
1) Administrative Approval
In our case, I was elated to share the story of the webcam donation with our administrators, and they were obviously delighted. It’s common practice to notify the Superintendent of donation requests to be approved by the Board of Education. Subsequently, I made the directors and curriculum administrators aware of what Empatico is and the powerful impact this could have on our students. I showed them how all Empatico activities are standards-aligned to the content we already teach. I assured them that, as a Technology Integration Specialist, I would be responsible for distribution, providing professional development, and follow-through with the teachers. I believe that a key factor to success was that we didn’t need administrators to oversee the entire rollout.
2) Big Reveal
We were fortunate that our 180 webcams arrived over the summer, so we had a wonderful opportunity to begin our rollout in September. We have seven elementary schools in our district served by two Tech Integration Specialists: me and Jessica. We both approached the principals at our respective buildings and asked to be given 5 minutes on the “First Staff Day Back to School” agenda. During those five minutes, we first told the story of the heartfelt plea for webcams that we made on their behalf, then we made the announcement of the mind-blowing donation of “180 WEBCAMS so that that every elementary student in Washington Township will have the opportunity to connect with other children around the world who look, learn, and live differently than we do!” I felt like Oprah Winfrey! There was explosive applause at every single school! I told them that one of our teachers had already-tested Empatico, and that she had been matched with a teacher from Kenya. The room fell silent. Our students would surely become even better human beings and develop empathy like never before thanks to these kinds of connections that would be made possible via Empatico.
We intentionally did NOT distribute webcams at that meeting. We knew that if we just let teachers pick up this new equipment, some would need help with installation, some would put it away in a drawer or closet, and most would not actually remember to sign up for Empatico.
3) Personalized Registration
Instead, we told teachers that over the next couple of weeks that we would personally deliver and hook up a webcam to each of their teacher stations AND help them register with Empatico while we were with them in their classrooms. Fortunately, the signup process was quick and easy. It took several weeks to get to everyone at all 7 schools, but we truly made a point of seeing every teacher. Some teachers were very interested in how it all worked, so we took a few minutes to answer their questions and do a very brief introduction. Some teachers were busy teaching or didn’t have time to get too involved in Empatico at that time, so we focused on getting them used to their webcam and creating their profile in Empatico. Teachers were comforted by the fact that they weren’t yet expected to do anything – professional development was yet to come.
4) Empatico 101
We decided professional development would be mandatory for every elementary teacher in the district who received a webcam. The main objective was for teachers to learn how to use the Empatico website (selecting activities, setting availability, etc.). In addition, I took this opportunity to introduce the Sustainable Development Goals. I also wanted to share a few other things that teachers could now do with their new webcams/microphones. I put the entire set of resources into this Smore so that Jessica and I could teach the same content. The Smore also made it easy to share all resources digitally after the sessions.
We also asked each principal to come up with a “rolling professional development” schedule that would allow us to see teachers from each grade level for 45-75 minutes. Each principal chose a day and then secured a bank of 5-8 substitutes who could cover sets of teachers as they came to the on-site workshop. In this way, we were able to have 7 separate professional development days – one at each school – and every elementary teacher left having met the objective of knowing how to use Empatico.
5) Continuous Support
Because our district employs two Technology Integration Specialists at the elementary level, we are able to provide ongoing and job-embedded, personalized support to any teacher who needs supplemental development or encouragement. Jessica and I each maintain an online booking calendar through which staff can schedule individualized time with us. We asked teachers to book us as needed at any point during their Empatico journey. Some called us right after they got matched with a partner classroom on Empatico to ask, “What do I do next?” Others wanted to be coached through how to implement the activity plans. We requested that teachers invite us in for the actual exchanges so we could offer technical and collaborative support. Our ability to be of continuous service to our teachers has alleviated the reservations and fears teachers initially had about trying Empatico on their own.
6) Keep the Momentum Going!
The final step, as with any powerful district initiative, is to keep the momentum going. As a Technology Integration Specialist, I enjoy finding creative ways to motivate and celebrate our teachers. Luckily, with something as wonderful as Empatico, most teachers are compelled to “get matched,” and then once they do, they’re hooked! Here are a few other ideas I’ve used to keep the excitement and momentum going in Washington Township:
- Monthly Smore: Jessica and I have always written monthly edtech newsletters for our staff using Smore. Now we just use this same newsletter platform to highlight individual stories of success and to give shoutouts to anyone who has tried an Empatico connection for the first time.
- Press Release: Empatico enables your students to talk to children from all over the world, and this is something that your community should hear about! I made sure the story of how we implemented Empatico across all elementary schools was featured on our district website, and I will be in touch with our PR department many more times as we watch our students continue to investigate the world, weigh perspectives, become more empathetic, and take global action!
- Empatico Padlet: I created this Padlet (digital corkboard with sticky notes) for everyone in the district! We have been encouraging teachers to post to this when they get matched. When teachers see so many other teachers on there, including those who aren’t always tech-savvy, they’re pretty motivated by it! We used this Padlet during our initial professional development, and we also frequently include it in our monthly Smore newsletters. We are always SURE to include principals when we send links to the updated Padlet posts – so they can see and celebrate staff members who are actively participating!
- Email Monthly Update Charts: Once every month I also send out a 3-column chart. The left column lists teachers’ names, the middle column lists their corresponding elementary school, and the right column lists the state or country to which they’ve been connected through Empatico. The benefit of this system is that principals look right down that middle column to see how many of their staff members are connected in comparison to other schools. (Principals can be pretty competitive, in a friendly way, which provides us with co-motivators!) The right column really motivates teachers, especially when they see cross-country or international connections!
- Social Media: We are so proud to be the very first #EmpaticoDistrict that we are using that exact hashtag to share our story like crazy on Twitter! I tweet when I get a midnight text from a teacher who’s excited because she just got matched. We tweet pictures of our students’ reactions to meeting other classes. I tweet pictures of the teachers’ enthusiasm for having access to this kind of technology! I often tag the Superintendent, other global educators, our state Department of Education, and everyone else who might be excited for us! We want everyone to know that we #SparkEmpathy in Washington Township!
- World Map Displays: Before we even began this journey, I told my friends at Empatico that I had a vision to create a giant world map display in the front entrance of every one of our schools. The goal would be for all teachers to put a pushpin or sticker onto every location of the map with which they connect. If each teacher completes at least two Empatico connections this year, what a powerful testament and celebration of our newfound ability to have our young students be globally connected. Those map displays, which are beginning to appear at our school, have had the unexpected side-effect of increasingly motivating teachers who were initially reluctant to get started. The maps are very visible to everyone who visits the school, and every teacher wants to be sure that their class is represented.
It is my sincere hope that reading about our story, implementation and rollout helps you to formulate a plan to give the gift of Empatico to the students in your district, too. I’m happy to connect and support you in any way that I can, and would love to hear stories of your plans to roll this out in your district. Please feel free to reach out to me directly on Twitter (@kerszi) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any and all questions. I look very much forward to welcoming you to the #EmpaticoDistrict community!
“I cannot wait to see what happens WITH our students, TO our students, and especially BECAUSE of our students as a result of Empatico.” – Kathi Kersznowski, Technology Integration Specialist