Schooling in the COVID Crisis

Book Pic 1 Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from educators across the country who are struggling with the current COVID-19 crisis. Teachers and school leaders are being forced to do new things. Immediately. Like move their classes on-line while learning to use Zoom for the first time. I will confess that I do miss being there with you, on the front lines. But, I would like to share some thoughts for you to consider.

First, I believe in technology. For over 25 years I’ve been a technology advocate, helping educators use more technology in their classrooms, helping them find their own path to Blended Learning. But… the most important things being done in our classrooms can never be done by a computer.

It’s important to remember: What is most often happening now… is not Blended Learning. In most cases it is some combination of home schooling, distance learning, or online schooling. As educators are forced to adopt new methods too rapidly, without training or support, lots of words are being misused and methods poorly implemented.

There are philosophies and research guiding Blended Learning instructional delivery, with theories and pedagogies that are enacted in intentional ways. So, we need to guard against miss-using language that we already have in our schools with students, parents, and political leaders. Some politicians will use this crisis to call for us to adopt practices that are simply not good for students.

Across America, many schools have been pitted against each other in a competition to prove who can transition from face to face learning to virtual school the fastest!  In reality, some school districts are just trying to do something to avoid the perception that they’re doing nothing. At the same time, normal school operations, budgeting, maintenance, staffing, all continue.

In many places, schools won’t re-open this year! Let that sink in. I’ve been in education 48 years and never experienced anything like this before. It is also a time that will shape us – and the very nature of schooling – far into the future. What we’re doing right now is something completely different. Schooling and its purposes can change dramatically when a society is in shock and crisis. What we’re doing today is teaching and learning in COVID-19.

K-12 schools, colleges, and universities have been shut down. Teachers and professors have had to reimagine what their teaching looks like from a distance and what is even possible for students to learn and do in their own homes.

Educators are working from home. Many are also parents and/or caretakers for sick and elderly family members, and they’re not only still trying to work, but also manage their own children’s school assignments and their families’ needs.

girl in pink and white shirt sitting beside brown wooden table

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

Most troubling, students have been cut off from physical social interaction with friends teachers, and coaches. This is not business as usual and it is unethical to act as if it could be. No one should expect the “COVID-19 Schooling” happening now to be anything close to usual.

Let me be clear: It is impossible to “transform” face-to-face teaching and learning into COVID-19 teaching and learning overnight. And even if that was possible, doing so will have a serious downside for children.

In my recent book, The Chemistry of Culture, I survey the research documenting the dramatic decline of social/emotional skills like empathy among today’s young people. Many neuroscientists, psychologists, and sociologists it a crisis. The COVID crisis will only accelerate that decline. What happens to a culture when it loses empathy?

But there is an upside to this crisis. We have a great opportunity to slow the testing rat race. By taking away tests (most state mandates are already lifted), and thinking differently about grading, maybe we can determine how to help our students, and each other, during this life-altering moment.

Book Cover

Whenever we do return to whatever our “new normal” will be, what will our schools look like? How will we move forward with what we’ve learned from this crisis? Will we be able to find a new and better balance between technology and teacher?  These are some of the questions I explored in, The Chemistry of Culture. It’s now more important than ever to find the answers. 

Given that it’s highly unlikely the future of education will contain less technology. How will we find the right balance for our children and our culture? Remember, the most important things being done in our classrooms, particularly for our most at risk students…  can never be done by a computer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Emphasize Empathy

If you want Empathy to increase in your school, you must work at it. You must plan for it, budget for it, and schedule for it. Here’s a great example from a middle school in Maryland:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Warning: Culture Crisis

Warning Graphic

American culture is in crisis. Our culture, like every culture, is built on the relationships between the individuals within it. And relationships rest on a foundation of trust. When trust breaks down, culture breaks down. I just spent two years researching the science behind this situation for my new book, The Chemistry of Culture. Scientists say the evidence for the breakdown of our culture is everywhere.

Anxiety, depression, and declining interpersonal skills are epidemic. Entering college freshmen are half as empathetic as they were in 2000. The CDC reported that in the previous decade teen suicides were up almost 60%.

The statistics became all too personal for me recently when, in a school where I have worked, a student left school, alerted their social media network, and then live-streamed their suicide. This happened in a school I know well. It is a good school, with a highly empathetic Principal and a caring staff. Trust me, if it can happen here… it can happen anywhere. And it does.

It was like a punch in the gut and I posted about it. Then took it down. Some people believe we should not talk about such things openly. I believe they are wrong. Left untreated, a deep wound to our flesh will not heal itself, and the crisis in our culture must be called out and addressed.

Of course, we must take care to never add additional anguish to those whom this tragedy has touched. We must never identify victims, locations, or even communities directly. But we must begin to bring this crisis out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Then we must act. The future of our society may depend on it. In so doing, we may also find meaning in our pain, help heal the wounds, and begin to prevent more suffering.

 I was touched directly by this crisis in a school I love. It has changed me. It has strengthened my commitment to make a difference. For over two decades now we have been turning our schools and teachers into testing machines. We have made student data our single focus. Enough is enough.

The pendulum has swung way too far. It’s now cutting into hearts of our students and the very fabric of our culture. It is ripping apart the social and emotional connections that bind us to one another. It’s time to change our focus. It’s time to understand the why behind we must, Maslow before Bloom!

There is good news. Scientists say that we most certainly CAN solve this problem. Culture is based on relationships, and our behavior determines our relationships. Behavior is learned, and Neuroscience is unlocking the brain chemistry behind building better relationships and culture. I survey some of the science behind these statements in, The Chemistry of Culture.

 In the coming months I will be announcing the changes I am making and exactly how I intend to support the work of building better relationships in our schools and improving school culture. If I’ve learned anything it’s that: If your culture is broken, you can’t fix anything else.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Norman Sales: Empowering ELL Students

IMG_7202 (Edited)

Norman Sales says that he didn’t choose to teach the ELL class at Farrington HS in Honolulu. He thinks the class chose him. Norman is now in his 6th year of teaching students still learning to speak English, and does not think of switching classes any time soon.

One reason Norman connects strongly with his ELL students, is because so many of their stories are similar to his own. Norman moved to Hawaii from the Philippines and often felt like an infant in his new home. And he readiloy admits he is still learning and acclimating along with his students. He speaks their languages and he knows and understands the culture of the households they come from.

This interview with Norman Sales is the first of a new series in this BLOG where I will share space with some of the teachers who have inspired me. Let’s begin by hearing from Norman Sales:

Jim Warford: What expectations do you have for your students?

Norman Sales: More than anything, I want to help my students so that they can transition to the mainstream classes, maybe to the early college classes, and maybe to the AP classes. I want them to have the opportunities that may be difficult for them to achieve if they do not test out from the WIDA at the end of the year. I want them to be successful.

Jim Warford: What are some of your biggest successes?

Norman Sales: One of my biggest successes is the higher percent of students exiting the ELL program. When I started teaching the class in 2013-14, just 47% exited. In 2016 we had a 78% exit rate. I know these are just numbers, but I take pride in the numbers. I also know that there are numerous other factors in these passing rates, but I am proud nonetheless.

I have also seen my students in AP classes with some of them taking AP English Language and Composition and AP English Literature and Composition. The AP Language teacher this year just told me that one of her current students wrote his gratitude essay to me.

Another success is that I’ve engaged my students in rigorous lessons and activities. I’m proud that teachers from Farrington and other schools come and observe how I conduct my academic discussions with ELLs. My ELLs have presented at a faculty meeting about a Quad D Lesson project they worked on collaboratively with students in the Art classes.

A recent personal success for me was when some of my students told me I ask difficult questions! I like to say that they meant I ask rigorous questions, because they said that to me after I asked them if the author we were reading at that point achieved his purpose.

Professionally, I think a success is becoming a teacher leader. I joined the Farrington Teacher Leadership Cadre, TLC, last year and have returned for a 2nd year. I am hoping to remain in TLC as long as possible. My colleagues also voted for me to lead the ELA department this year. I am at a position where I can advocate not only for my ELLs but all our GAP students.

Jim Warford: What have been some of the biggest barriers you have encountered teaching ELL students?

Norman Sales: Since I attended school in the Philippines my entire life, one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome is the diversity of the classrooms here in Hawaii. I went to school with people from my small hometown and I was taught by Filipino teachers. There is also the ethnic diversity. At first, I didn’t know how to reach my non-Filipino students. There is the diversity of skills even if everyone is ELL. I didn’t know how to address all the evident and unnoticeable differences that were present in my classroom. Because of that diversity, my classroom management wasn’t strong when I started teaching.

Also, my teacher preparation was in teaching English and not in language acquisition and development which I think are as important as my ELA curriculum. I feel bad for the first group of kids that I taught because I didn’t know many strategies that would have helped them test out. I started taking Professional Development seriously.

MSC FHS 1My mentors, Jessica Kato, Angie Koanui, and Sherilyn Waters were really helpful. The ELL department at Farrington is collaborative. A lot of people think I am with the ELL department, but I am actually, and was always, with the ELA department. Maybe that says a lot about the work I do with the ELL kids.

The most recent barrier is when WIDA transitioned to computer-based testing and when the State of Hawaii changed the requirements for kids to test out, making it hard to compare data over time. I am still trying to figure out how best to help my students since the testing change in 2017.

Jim Warford: You mentioned your shock at discovering Hawaii’s incredible diversity compared to your hometown in the Philippines. I know that, like most mainlanders, until I began working here in the islands I had no real appreciation either. Can you tell us a little more about what that diversity looks like in your classroom?

Norman Sales: I’ve only been teaching sheltered English classes at Farrington. Even if they are all ELLs, their abilities and experiences vary. Some of them are long term ELLs and some of them are recent immigrants from the Philippines, Chuuk, or from the many other islands in Micronesia and Polynesia. The ethnic diversity is also another thing that I wasn’t used to. Back home, we all shared the same practices and traditions.

The cultures of my students are also diverse. And when I say culture, I am not only referring to ethnicity or race. Their culture is complex – I have students who are gamers, some of them listen to K Pop, some of them are into visual arts, there are basketball players, and so on. There are other cultural aspects that are hidden from the surface -students view gender roles differently, discussion etiquette vary from student to student, and socio-economic backgrounds. They also have similarities. Many of my students talk about family separation through divorce, separation, or immigration. Even that contributes to the diversity in the classroom.

Jim Warford: Can you tell us a little more about how you use in class? And how have the students responded?

Norman Sales: Here’s how I’ve used Socrative.

  1. I would create a “Short Answer” prompt from the teacher dashboard. It could be as simple as generate 3 universal questions. Students have unlimited chances to turn in responses.
  2. Students generate questions on their team and they turn in individual questions through their phones or a computer.
  3. Once all questions are turned in, there’s a discussion on the quality of the questions. Which one would yield to more conversations and more literal questions are addressed. Students also have the chance to consolidate similar questions.
  4. Once questions are narrowed down through answering literal questions and through narrowing down similar questions, students then vote on which questions they want to talk about in the succeeding discussion.
  5. Students take the chosen questions back to their groups and they prepare by answering and looking for evidence.

Jim Warford: What one thing would you suggest to any new ELL teacher starting out?

Norman Sales: I am often frustrated. I’ve developed a habit of taking a break to take a deep breath in the middle of a class activity just to reboot. The frustration sometimes come from plans that are failing or from other million things that are happening in the classroom. Sometimes progress take awhile to be evident in student work, interactions, and observations. And that for me is frustrating.

In other words, patience is key. And I know teachers are the most patient individuals in this universe, but ELL teachers or content area teachers who are teaching ELLs must carry an extra dose of patience everyday. The student who rarely speak may not start interacting with everyone in the classroom until April (school year in Hawaii ends in May).

You may have a new student from moving to your classroom from a different teacher after finding out that the student is misplaced or a new student from another country a week before the WIDA test. You’ll have a student who will be copying all his or her responses from the text you are reading because the student doesn’t have an idea of what is plagiarism, inference, or textual evidence. There will be other factors too just like changes in the curriculum or assessments.

But do not let your patience run out. It’s worth it once you see progress, and do not forget to celebrate the small victories.

Jim Warford: Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Norman.

You will find much more about Norman Sales and Farrington HS in my new book, The Chemistry of Culture, at: You can also get a 20% discount direct from the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield at: and using promo code RLEGEN19



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Culture Framework… Continued

How trusting is the staff in your school? Do they collaborate freely and effectively? How innovative are they? Do they feel empowered to participate in the decisions that impact them the most? Are they committed to your school’s vision, or just compliant? Are these things getting better or worse, and how do you know?

In my new book, The Chemistry of Culture, available now on Amazon, I introduce and describe the 3 components of The Culture Framework: Trust, Empowerment, and Collaboration. And why Trust is the essential foundation of any effective culture. But first, in chapter 4 we examine the rapidly accumulating data pointing to the dramatic decline in social emotional skills like empathy across all demographic groups in our society, but most markedly among the young.                                                   Empathy Data

As educators, the time has come to better understand that empathy is one of the essential skills for building trust and creating a more effective culture. An empathetic school is one that recognizes and helps teachers achieve their professional goals, career needs, and personal priorities outside of school. In other words, the whole person. To put it simply, we must emphasize and exercise empathy, and in Part 2 of The Chemistry of Culture, we examine specific strategies to do just that.

The hard truth is that, for the past 2 decades many of the major educational trends impacting our schools have been moving us away from the idea of creating a culture that nurtures empathy. The relentless focus on testing, data, and accountability while arguably necessary and well-intended, too often meant there was little time left over for culture or relationship building.

As school leaders we must face the fact that the measurable declines in our soft skills like empathy and all the related inter-personal skills are not just confined to our students. They are having an equal impact on the younger teachers and administrators entering our profession. There is a growing mountain of scientific evidence confirming these declines are real. We must face the fact that they will not reverse themselves on their own. We must act.

The rapid increase of instructional technology in our classrooms and schools brings with it a difficult dilemma. Many school leaders have pushed for more, faster integration of technology for the past 20 years. While at the same time more teachers are seeing and thinking about, its negative impact on their students and their classroom culture. The supporters of ideas like Blended Learning are growing. But as ICLE Senior Fellow, Wes Kieschnick, rEmphasize_Empathyeminds us in his book, Bold SchoolTechnology is awesome. Teachers are better!”. But what is the role of the teacher?

In Chapter 13 you will meet Sean Witwer, a Special Education teacher at Farrington HS in Honolulu, HI who’s been following Wes Kieschnick’s Bold School lead by using a #BoldSchool Blended Learning strategy that allows him to use technology to deliver more personalized instruction. By using computers, he can deliver course content through direct instruction and differentiate according to each student’s individual needs. Mr. Witwer has totally re-invented his classroom, and empowered students with greater responsibility for their own learning. In so doing, he has found the time to build better relationships and a more caring culture.

Individual teachers have been experimenting with different forms of technology like the “flipped class” for years. Master flippers, like Bozeman High School’s Paul Andersen have achieved remarkable success. Using technology, Paul totally re-invented his science classroom, raised test scores, and was named Montana’s Teacher of the Year. Paul even did what many educators dream about. Using Game Theory, he turned his science class into a video game! You can see how on his YouTube channel at:

But here’s the essential question: How does empathy develop in a technology-driven learning environment? How can we use it to create better relationships? While it’s most certainly true that technology can be one of a teacher’s most useful tools… But at what cost to our students’ interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence? We often feel stuck on the horns of a giant dilemma.

We need much more research to fully understand what is lost when our students learn online. Are we directly contributing to the decline of empathy? And if the culture surrounding us does in fact shape our brain’s capacity for trust, then we need to be providing our students and schools with as many opportunities as possible for exercising empathy.

At Farrington HS, everyone is teaching and learning. Teachers learn from teachers, students learn from students and teachers, and teachers regularly collaborate to create interdisciplinary, real-world lessons. At Farrington, teachers have the autonomy to experiment freely without fear of failure. They are entrusted to lead professional learning for their peers, because they trust teachers to know their students best and have the experience, expertise, and heart to movCulture Cyclee the school forward.

Farrington is a Model School because they’ve created a “learning culture” where everyone is both teaching and learning. This is a culture that has chosen to emphasize empathy, a culture where every Professional Development session begins with empathy exercises where teachers build relationships, practice reading body language, hearing voices, making eye contact, and reading facial expressions. At Farrington they do not leave empathy to chance.

The Chemistry of Culture introduces The Culture Framework® which can be used by school leaders as a map to guide the process of creating the 3 things needed for building a culture of learning and innovation: Trust, empowerment, and collaboration. It’s now at or you can get a 20% discount direct from the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield at: using promo code RLEGEN19

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Culture Framework

In my new book, The Chemistry of Culture, out this month from Rowman and Littlefield, I introduce The Culture Framework. Building on ICLE’s original Rigor/Relevance Framework®, the Culture Framework is a new Mental Model, or map, that can guide a school’s journey toward creating more rigorous and relevant instruction by providing them a blueprint for building a positive, innovative, and effective school culture. The Culture Framework provides a context for acquiring, applying, and assessing strategies, skills, tools, and processes to guide the improvement of your school’s culture.

At ICLE we define school leadership not as a position, but rather a disposition. A disposition for taking action, for making change happen. An important job of every school leader is to broaden the definition of “leadership” to include as many staff and students as possible, and to insure they all share a common vision of where the school is heading. In a school with a Quad D culture, leadership is a collaborative responsibility, shared by all staff. They hold each other accountable for taking actions to reach specific goals.

The Culture Framework can be used as a guide for reflecting on the unique culture of any school. In each of the four quadrants of the Culture Framework, specific cultural characteristics can be identified, and the framework can be used to measure progress from a compliant culture wo one that is committed. On the framework, from Quadrant A to Quadrant D.

The Culture Framework is divided into four quadrants. But unlike the Rigor/Relevance Framework®, both the vertical and horizontal axis are labeled along a trust continuum. This important distinction is because more than any other single factor: It is the level of trust within a school’s culture that determines the effectiveness of both collaboration and empowerment! No other element of school culture comes close. School leaders everywhere understand and agree. So, the question is: Why do so many schools spend so little time thinking about trust? Working on trust? Planning for trust?

The author Stephen Covey has written extensively about trust. Covey says, “Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” He goes on to say… “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships”.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, he explains that trust is the foundation of all effective teams. He explains why members of great teams must trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level. Most importantly he says, they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors.

In, The Culture Framework, Collaboration lies on the vertical axis, with Trust as the variable. Improving collaboration requires raising the ability and effectiveness of all staff to work smarter, not harder, by working collectively to solve problems together. At the lower levels oFigure 5.5f the collaboration axis, lower levels of trust inhibit every aspect of collaboration, from communication to content. This lack of trust reveals itself often when students, teachers, or administrators are unable or unwilling to be vulnerable within their group. As a result, they are less likely to admit their mistakes, communicate openly, share ideas freely, or hold each other accountable for the group’s outcomes.

Empowerment lies along the horizontal axis of The Culture Framework, with a Trust continuum again as the variable. Empowerment and trust often work in tandem. Lack of trust is the most common reason for lack of authentic empowerment, and lack of empowerment leads to lower trust. Mastering meaningful empowerment is the single most important action school leaders can take to create greater trust. And… the most powerful strategy teachers can use with students in their classrooms. You see, trust only improves when we practice it.

That means, if you want to believe you can trust your students, you must start… by trusting your students. Students (and adults) can only become more trustworthy with practice. This can be scary for some, but the result is powerful. When trust is high, empowered teams of students, teachers, or administrators are all more willing and able to take risks, make mistakes, and innovate.

Chapter 7 of, The Chemistry of Culture, explores a specific leadership strategy called, Release Control that can be used by principals or teachers to empower others. And in chapters 13, 14 and 15, a powerful set of teacher strategies to increase and improve student collaboration in the classroom.

The Chemistry of Culture introduces The Culture Framework® provides a “Mental Model” that can be used to understand the development of a highly effective culture. This new framework can be used by school leaders as a map to guide reflection on the dynamic process of creating the 3 things needed for building a culture of learning and innovation: Trust, empowerment, and collaboration.

The Chemistry of Culture is now available at or you can get a 20% discount direct from the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield at: using promo code RLEGEN19

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Importance of Mental Models

Map FinalImproving school culture really is a journey. A never ending one. And when setting out on any journey to a place we’ve never been before, the first thing we need is a good map. A good map is not just nice to have. It is essential. That’s exactly what a Mental Model is: a good map. Without a good map you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what the destination looks like, you won’t know when you arrive… and you can easily get lost!

Just why are Mental Models so important? Because, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, very few of us are able to see the world as it actually is. Artists, mystics, poets, do catch glimpses. The rest of us see only shadows… and what our Mental Model of reality allows us to see. In other words, our Mental Models are an internal symbol or representation of our external reality. Like a map. Having the right mental model is like having a map to the cave.

The teachers and principals who most effectively increase the Rigor and Relevance in their schools have learned that the first, and most important, thing they need before beginning their journey is a new Mental Model of what a “good” teacher is. That new model should include a flexible framework to guide their journey, a framework they can use as a map to make decisions while moving forward. That is exactly what ICLE’s Rigor and Relevance Framework® provides.

What teachers and principals often need most is not more initiatives, programs, or tools… but better Mental Models to help them think more strategically about using the tools they already have. Dr. Richard Jones, describes it this way… “A mental model is an internal symbol or representation of external reality. The right mental model is like having a map to a city. Professional development in mental models introduces a framework, gives concrete examples, and encourages patterns of reflective thought and conversations to act consistently in these mental models.”

Creating real change in schools is a fluid process. Just like every student, every school has its own unique DNA. There is no single detailed blueprint to follow for success. However, there most certainly are lessons that can be learned from other schools. Dr. Bill Daggett has worked with schools and districts across the country for over 25 years to share best practices, conduct research, and support school leaders in facilitating changes that lead to measurable improvement… He says with some certainty that, “…changing Mental Models is one of the most important first steps”.

My new book, The Chemistry of Culture introduces The Culture Framework® provides a “Mental Model” that can be used to understand the development of a highly effective culture. This new framework can be used by school leaders as a map to guide reflection on the dynamic process of creating the 3 things needed for building a culture of learning and innovation: Trust, empowerment, and collaboration.

The Chemistry of Culture can be purchased now on Map Finalat: , or you can get a 20% discount direct from the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield at: using promo code RLEGEN19

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Praise for The Chemistry of Culture

My sincere thanks to all those at the 2019 Model Schools Conference who attended my “Chemistry of Culture” session or Farrington HS’s “Transforming Learning Through Culture” this week. To order the book and learn more, you can receive a 20% #MSC2019 discount using the form below. Remember all royalties and profits go to a special Farrington HS Student Fund. Mahalo!

Warford_The Chemistry of Culture JPG


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Chemistry of Culture Book Release

Book Cover

I’m proud to announce the publication of my new book, The Chemistry of Culture: Brain-Based Strategies to Build a Culture of Learning.  Pre-order discounts and information are available now on Amazon at:  The book will be released September 15th on all major outlets. Why is a book on culture so important to your classroom and school? Because if your culture is broken, you can’t fix anything else.

Your classroom and school culture is the foundation of your success. But too often it’s the biggest barrier blocking improvement. If your school’s culture is broken, you can’t change technology or teaching. Any effective school or classroom culture is built on 3 things: trust, empowerment, and collaboration. This book explores the brain research emerging from the field of Neuroscience that supports why and how each of these 3 elements is so critically important.

This book brings that brain research out of the lab and into schools and classrooms. Readers will learn not only why culture is too important to be left to chance, but how a positive culture can be built by design. You will learn how to use successful startegies from highly effective classrooms and schools. You will learn how to use these strategies to “bathe brains” in the neurochemicals needed to improve the culture, and learning, in any classroom or school.

Watch this space for updates and more information about contents.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Emphasize Empathy

Empathy in students entering college has declined a jaw-dropping 40% Since 2000! Think about that a minute… This finding from a study of empathy in over 14,000 college students, by University of Michigan researchers, caused quite a stir when it was presented to the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science and reported in Psychology today. The study showed that students starting college after 2000, have empathy levels that are 40% lower than those who came before them.

And it’s happening at every level. New research into Bullying from the University of Kansas showed that measures of cognitive empathy in students transitioning to middle school also show evidence of significant decline. Cognitive empathy is defined as the ability to take another person’s perspective. Remarkably, empathy declined whether the students had displayed bullying behaviors or had been the victims of it.

Even a quick review of the literature will turn up multiple studies that show the decline of empathy across different demographic groups. In our culture as a whole, empathy has declined 48% in the 30 years between 1979 and 2009.

Empathy Data

These are not isolated studies. Not only is Empathy dramatically declining in our culture, but the rate of the decline is actually accelerating in young people. But don’t take my word. Google empathy for yourself. You’ll also learn that there are things we can do about it.

Research into declining empathy done by psychologist, Jean Twenge, has led her to conclude that we are experiencing what she has called a, “Narcissism Epidemic”. Her research found increasing numbers of students exhibiting personality traits leading to a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, an extreme condition that arises when people are so self-absorbed that other people are seen only as objects to reflect their glory.

Want to test your empathy level against today’s college students? You can do so by taking the Empathy Survey at this link:

I increasingly find that the teachers and school leaders with whom I work instantly recognize the reality of this trend. They see it first-hand every day. One of the easiest ways for me to get a group of heads nodding affirmatively is to say… today’s young people are “wired differently”. So, dear reader, I want to ask you a few essential questions:

  1. What happens to a culture when Empathy declines?
  2. What changes in a culture as we lose our ability to empathize with each other?
  3. What will this decline mean for our schools, our teachers, and students?

I will be exploring answers to these questions and offering brain-based strategies for building empathy in future Blog Posts on this site and in a new book, “Closing the Circle of A’o”.


*Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis by Sara H. Konrath, Edward H. O’Brien, Courtney Hsing, Personality and Social Psychology Review, August, 2010

*Empathy Dropped 40% in College Students Since 2000, Maia Szalavitz, Psychology Today, May 2010

*The Decline in Cognitive Empathy Among Middle School Students, Aaron Bolton, Shandra Forrest-Bank, Kimberly Bender, Jeff Jenson, University of Kansas, October, 2016


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment