Everyone is talking about thriving, flourishing, and positive psychology! Possibly the greatest break-through in neurology in the last generation was the idea of neuroplasticity.  The brain can change throughout our lifetimes. We can learn new things and change our way of being.  I don’t know about you, but I am deeply encouraged by this scientific fact and I’d call it the Grace of Great Things.

How do we do change, learn, grow, thrive?

Empathetic Design

We design intentionally. Designing is a process and it begins with empathy.

Human-centered, empathetic design is a process ultimately focused on thriving. Teachers and parents, what if the most important research and learning we do is exploring, interviewing, questioning, and understanding the children in our care?

We must empathize. Modeling empathy teaches empathy.

Key to Empathizing

What does that look like in the home or classroom?

First of all, it looks like addressing the authentic problems, complex or even “wicked” ones.

Then, we must empathize with the people involved. How? We must ask honest, open questions.

My dad is a master at this. He relates with and influences people from all walks of life, particularly his 12 grandchildren who live in a vastly different world from his by asking honest, open questions. The questions don’t have a right or wrong answer, but rather they have the shape of curiosity. He most often prepares the first questions in advance of the interaction.

Then, he is grateful, deeply grateful for the interaction and time.

The Center for Courage and Renewal defines open, honest questions as “hear[ing] each other into deeper speech.” Going deeper regarding the issue, challenge, or problem, in an empathetic way offers us the opportunity of truly understanding the core needs before solving the problem.

Photo by Megan Lewis on Unsplash

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Empathizing with Parents

I’ll give you an example from my own school context. Our school currently has 60 spaces for preschool children (ages 30mos to Pre-K) with options for programming that is either 2-day, 3-day, or 5-day. All of the programs include before and after school care. However, we’ve been listening to parents calling our school and within our school. We hear them stating a felt need for infant-toddler care (ages 6mos to 36mos).

But, then we listen more closely. If we take time and sincerely empathize, we can hear them agonizing about leaving their babies and heading off to work without them. We’re thoughtful. We know parents are the primary attachment of children and very young children need parents most of all. Then, we are empathetic and we consider our design.

What if we could care for your little one close to where you work? What if we designed a childcare facility so your baby was only moments away from you throughout the day. Then, you could have lunch together, go for a walk together on your break, or simply be present in a heartbeat if your child is ill or hurt. What if we could design childcare with the tender hearts of working parents and the unspoken needs of children in mind?

How would our design change? How could we design more effectively for thriving?

You see, I am deeply motivated to design for thriving. Will it be easy? No. Will it cost money and mean taking risks? Yes. Is it the same process I undertake in our family and our school? Yes.

We continue to listen, question, understand, empathize, so we can learn, grow, design, iterate, adapt, and solve problems.

It is the design process.

For the sake of the children,