The Role of Empathy in a Global Society

This week’s Head’s Corner blog is written by Gaby Akana, Assistant Head of School and Middle School Division Head.

“What are the values, attitudes, skills and behaviors that must be cultivated if we’re going to live in a peaceful world? It’s a desire to engage. It’s self-awareness about culture and respect for different perspectives. It’s comfort with ambiguity. It’s the skill to investigate the world through questions. Empathy and humility are big pieces of all of it.” – Dana Mortenson

When Dana Mortenson, Co-Founder of World Savvy spoke to our parents and faculty on January 18, her focus was to explore and understand what is most vital in preparing students for the future. In the quote above, from a New York Times opinion piece called Preparing Young Americans for a Complex World, Dana illuminates the intricate set of qualities and mindsets that we, as educators and parents, need to foster in our students and children in order to prepare them to be productive members of a global society.

The article also contains six multiple-choice questions, which were part of a larger survey by the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic, given to over 1200 American college students in an effort to measure global literacy. Less than 30% of students earned a passing grade. As parents of a generation that will be expected to demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of global issues, I invite you to see how accurately you can answer the questions (they are not easy!).

At Turning Point, our mission is to prepare students for this challenging and changing world. We are committed to maintaining a program that sufficiently addresses the skills and dispositions students will need for jobs that are not yet imaginable, in a marketplace that is continually influenced by a staggering influx of information. As Dana espouses, there are many values and attributes that our children should possess in their quest for global competence; one of the most important is empathy.

We hear a lot about “empathy” in education–it has earned a spot on the list of characteristics that many schools (including Turning Point) hold valuable when they speak of “character education.” And, certainly, “empathy” sounds like a nice character trait we would like our children to possess; but what, exactly, is it?

Like many buzz words, the colloquial use of the term “empathy” belies the depth and academic application of its meaning. People think that empathy is a “nicety” or simply a pleasant add-on to more important academic content. However, as Dana discussed in her presentation at Turning Point, empathy is not a soft skill. Business executives actively seek international applicants to run branches of corporations overseas. In addition, Ivy League universities offer postgraduate coursework in empathy, because business schools recognize this as an imperative in a globalized marketplace; it is vital for targeted marketing and sales.

Empathy is a way of thinking about others that is integral to navigating a complex and increasingly interconnected world. We know our students will have access to all the information available in modern times, but we want them to think critically in order to gauge the relevance and impact that this information will have on them, on those around them, and those that come after them.

Last Tuesday, our faculty continued to explore these themes as Mallory Wessel from World Savvy facilitated a workshop on global competence. She defined global competence as “…an appreciation for cultural differences; an ability to see multiple perspectives, develop critical and comparative thinking skills, possess problem solving abilities, express comfort with ambiguity and change, and understand globally significant issues.” As a faculty, we shared personal stories, used appreciative listening, and examined a case study on Syrian refugees to further our understanding of Global Competence and positively impact our role in the classroom and community.

As we continue to prepare our students and ourselves for success in an ever-changing world, we will be embracing additional opportunities to provide parents and teachers alike with the tools to increase global competencies and learn from one another in an open exchange of ideas and practice. Below are some resources and recommended reading for parents that Dana Mortenson provided to us after her talk that will be helpful as you think about how your children may someday contribute to their expanding community.

When we go beyond the basics of curriculum, we achieve our ultimate learning goal, which is to graduate students that are well-prepared to become the leaders, team-builders, problem-solvers, innovators, and altruists of the future, adaptable to any scenario in any corner of the world. As both an educator and a parent, I look forward to continuing this conversation in the months and years to come. I hope you will join me in future opportunities to learn from some of the most well-regarded experts in the field, as they help us shape our own approach to developing global competency both in and out of the classroom.


Gaby Akana
Assistant Head of School & Middle School Division Head

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