Official Empathy Week 2024 is Here — Get Involved! | Harbord & Khan | 3 Min Read

February 21, 2024

“There is no world save the one we make with our minds, and the mind’s predisposition determines the type of world we see” 

~ George Saunders 

Empathy Week, organized by Empathy Studios, runs from 26th February ­­­– 1st March 2024. This annual event, begun in 2019 in the UK, is now spreading around the world. It focuses attention on themes such as climate change, connecting across cultures, homelessness, religion, resilience, the refugee crisis and war and peace. Since 2020, 175,000 students have participated from more than forty countries. A free festival, Empathy Week provides opportunities to develop and practice empathy and includes webinars, films, and online and in-person events to support the development of empathy in 5 – 18-year-old students. Understanding your own and others’ feelings and emotions is complex, regardless of age. Participating in Empathy Week can inspire students to develop personal insights and provide the opportunity to be part of a world-wide project. There is also live Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers.


On a daily basis and closer to home, helping our students build empathy can help create a more dynamic, cooperative, and thoughtful classroom. Empathy affects not only the interpersonal relationships between students, but can also have a huge impact on classroom management with the connections and communication developed through empathetic responses. Many teachers have classroom rules or guidelines for their students. Showing students why these are important can help create a respectful, empathetic and safe classroom. In addition to classroom applications, of course, empathy is an important part of gaining perspective. Without the reflection empathy helps us develop, we can let our unexamined insecurities or unwarranted optimism impact our perception. 

Another useful concept to develop empathy with your students is to discuss ‘frames of reference’ — a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that determine how something will be approached, perceived, or understood (Merriam-Webster dictionary). These are fundamental to our understanding of the world and ourselves.

New York Times-bestselling author George Saunders shows us a way to understand frames of reference using a cartoon based on Douglas Unger’s model for communication. Imagine two people are talking to each other Person A says something and now that comment passes into Person B’s thought bubble; however, it gets mangled (Saunders, 2022). 

If your classroom isn’t officially participating in Empathy Week, there are other tools, including our Orange Sun visual thinking tool, which can help students build empathy.

Using the The Orange Sun Toolⓒ

The Orange Sun Toolⓒ is a thinking tool that allows students to see how their frames of reference influence their ideas and responses. It can support communication and help teachers be more aware of what the student is experiencing. Students respond to all the questions in any order. 

The Orange Sun Toolⓒ is a tool for self-reflection about a particular issue but can also be used to generate empathy. By changing the ‘Me’, ‘I’ and ‘My’ to ‘You’ and ‘Your’ (e.g. ‘My emotions and feelings’ to ‘Your emotions and feelings’) it can be used to facilitate sensitive discussions and resolve conflicts. Think of a challenging situation you were in recently. Did you stop to think about the other person’s needs, wants, emotions, feelings or beliefs and how these may have shaped your interaction with them?

The organizers of Empathy Week report that a 2022 pilot study from Cambridge University found a positive behavioral outcome for many students who had participated in previous Empathy Week programs. The report concluded these students showed greater emotional empathy and were more receptive to others’ feelings, that their self-compassion grew, and many students demonstrated a personal choice to connect with others. Empathy grows and will develop with practice and time and can be taught. Give it a try.     


Empathy Week (Ed.). (2024). Develop the crucial skill of empathy in 2024. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from

Merriam Webster (Ed.). (2024). Frame of reference. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from (

Morin, A. (20232, May 9). How cognitive reframing works (A. Marsh, Ed.). Retrieved February 13, 2024, from, G., Gogolʹ, N. V., Chekhov, A. P., Chekhov, A. P., Chekhov, A. P., Turgenev, I. S., Tolstoy, L., & Tolstoy, L. (2022). BOOK CLUB KIT: A swim in a pond in the rain: In which four Russians give a master class on writing, reading, and life (Random House trade paperback edition. ed.). Random House.

You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Harbord & Khan for Intrepid Ed News.

Harbord and Khan

Meredith Harbord EdD and Sara Riaz Khan are global educators who use ethical dilemmas to enrich and transform curriculum. Their student centric approach is driven by an ethical model and innovative tools that support critical thinking and creativity. Meredith and Sara’s collaboration as Design teachers at ABA Oman International School in Muscat, focused on sustainability, ethical design and global mindedness and inspired them to establish Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants. They develop units of work based on real world issues to engage and challenge students for diverse curriculums (IB, PBL, Common Core and Australian) and are available for professional development and to create programs to meet the specific needs of your school. Meredith and Sara have authored two teacher curriculum books ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (2020). Website:

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