AI and empathy

If Siri told you that it [they?] was [were?] having a bad day …

If Alexa ignored your angry request to play country music …

If your personal assistant socialized with other personal assistants …

WSJ The Future of Everything


It’s Complicated: Our Evolving Relationship with AI Assistants

future tense

I am in motion again.

Two years into my term, of instructing students that are on suspension or expulsion, I have accepted a new position at a different school in a totally different program.

Two years of mind expanding, resource connecting, schedule wrestling, rapport building, behaviour managing, family meeting, relationship developing, reflection writing-reading-publishing 360º teaching has lead me to another project.

This portfolio has been deeply satisfying. The learning complex. And the pace, energizing.

So why change?

Why look for the ‘next’?

A younger me would have fence-hopped that question and just dropped a ‘why not?’ in response. But a mic drop is less satisfying now. I want to know my mind so that I better know the how and why of my decisions. And I am forcing myself to become more comfortable with sharing my thinking so that others can know me too.

This process has not easily translated into an cogent script for colleagues observing my chess moves. My decision has some people seriously questioning my dedication to my students. And I can see their point. If I am the best resource to help student A, then it seems reasonable enough that I should do so.

My best assurance is that I fully accept the needs of student ‘A’ and also any student that may cross my path. It’s a funny sense of system connection that I have. I really try to get a glimpse of my impact on students that I have not met yet. Or even more vaguely, I wonder how will my work positively impact students that I never meet?

The suggestion  that staying stationary is better than remaining in motion is one truth. A frequent truth. But not the only truth. And to that end, I have had to hone my awareness of my team’s perception of my choices so that I could truly address their questioning, and then leave them to their process of accepting my choices even if they cannot fully understand them.

In a longish and slowish progression, I have come to accept several developmental truths about my identity as a worker/learner. And despite the idiosyncratic connective tissues in my career moves, somehow I have managed to find work that speaks to my soul.

So far I have landed in Family Studies, Guidance, Special Education, Alternative Education, and a Suspension/Expulsion program.

Which brings me back to the new job.

And even though I tell myself that I am change and ambiguity tolerant, the questions about this particular move are popping up faster than I can write them down.

↔What triggers my need for change? Am I really always on the look out for the next thing? How often is the next thing a distraction rather than an inspiration? Can it be both?

↔What indicators do I notice that suggest that my team is ready for change? How do I build capacities to manage change according to a vision statement and the day to day business of work?

↔How do I work through the ‘change is good for me, but bad for you’, binary? Am I skilled enough to recognize the power of sympathy and empathy in managing change … in myself and others?

↔How long is long enough? Can positive, realistic, measurable impact be made in short term projects?

↔Is my change making a catalyst for others to create change? Do I open up opportunities for others? What is the legacy of my decisions? Does my personal vision statement encompass my past, present, and future?


I work with students on suspension and expulsion.

The students come from six high schools.

Each student brings their own context, course load, and success plan.

And enrolment is continuous.

I have called my approach modern, blended, multipurpose, multimodal, multidirectional and kaleidoscopic.

The program is necessarily shapeless, though not without inner structure. Its just that the bones can be reconfigured and reshaped as needed-  like lego, or code.

It has to be that way.

And if you were to unpack my daily routine to the uninitiated, it might seem an impossible portfolio to manage.

But I manage. And I plan. I prep. Reflect. Repair. Advocate. And plan.

With a program cap of 16 students, theoretically each of them brings a full schedule of programming that has never existed in our space. 16 students multiplied by 4 courses each is, well, that can be a lot of sudden preps.

And totally impossible … mostly.

Some days this is true. Some days I hit the balance. Most days I am flitting dynamically somewhere in the middle. Course design challenges alone will take up a followup post and you can check here for it’s development.

The individualized plans that we develop draw from almost every tool that is available in the system at large. Some resources may surprise. For example, we use co-operative education placements for some students. A colleague commented on this saying ‘really … an expelled kid gets to go to Co-Op?’ The edge of what’s possible is only limited by our imagination, our understanding of the system, and someone on the other side of the deal saying ‘no’.

A student’s reality can change drastically when their status shifts from suspension to expulsion. In preparation for this shift, we build and build and rebuild multiple plans. The versions flow so fluidly, that sometimes confusion happens. Focus softens. We come back to the table, reviewing multiple pages of ideas and ask ‘what are we trying to do again?’

But this is the necessary bit. One plan does not work 100% of the time.

And I apologize to parents and students and my colleague for what may seem like erratic thinking, but its not really that. Over-optioning serves a greater purpose than confusion, it is the necessary contemplative process, design process, and negotiation process all happening right up to the decision deadline. And it’s messy.

Some students comment that they appreciate all of our efforts, but they wish that they could have accessed these angles sooner.

It’s a great observation.

And I am not sure how to respond.