Interview for values

Having students interview staff, members of community, and peers highlights and encourages empathy, vulnerability, honesty.

Photo of Misa Sugiura
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As part of a larger writing unit (observational writing, character) I invited students' favorite staff members to class to be interviewed by the class. I've also invited veterans, engineers and entrepreneurs, and firefighters. I take student volunteers from the class as well. To prepare, we read published interviews of famous people from books, magazines, online, etc. We talked about what kinds of questions will lead to answers that tell us the most about the person, and what's appropriate to ask, what's too personal, etc. As part of the writing unit, we also discussed the importance of paying attention to body language, clothing, facial expressions, verbal tics. 

Students always found that they didn't know as much about the subject as they had assumed. They were always surprised--and often humbled--by things they learned about lives of the staff: the security guard, the head custodian, the assistant principal--as well as the lives of their peers. This experience rewards curiosity and heightens empathy, and often highlights the rewards of character traits that the subjects display: vulnerability, perseverance, honesty, etc. 

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Interview for Empathy is a great design thinking method (https://dschool.stanford.edu/wp-content/themes/dschool/method-cards/interview-for-empathy.pdf). I would often ask kids to write a letter to a role model - someone who they look up to and paved a path for them. I like the idea of interviewing someone they admire even better. It would be neat to expand this to people other than just staff members. But I would say no family members! (too easy to interview your mom. Plus, EVERYONE admires their mom) This would be a great opportunity to bring in someone who interviews others for a living, like a journalist. It would take some practice to get the kids ready to ask questions to dig deep, and to get these people they admire to reveal the character traits we would be looking for.

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