When she heard that a baby would be visiting her son’s class as a “professor” with Roots of Empathy, Lesa Cole was intrigued. A former educator herself, Cole appreciated the emphasis that Lake Forest Park Elementary placed on social and emotional learning. However, she was not alone in believing that social and emotional growth is just as important as academics. According to Cole, most Lake Forest Park parents are united by a commitment to whole child education.
How did Lake Forest Park convince its parents of the importance of teaching empathy, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving at school?
Cole believes that creating parent buy-in to teaching the changemaker skills starts with openness. Parents are welcomed and principal Aimee Miner works to find a unique way for every parent to be involved, based on their interests and availability. By Cole’s estimation, there are 15 or so parents at the school at any given time -- tutoring students, working in classrooms, teaching art, helping in the library, and volunteering in various capacities. Other parents take advantage of the bus that Lake Forest Park provides to get them to school events or help create materials for the teachers in the evenings after work. The open school culture also applies to students: children get to share whatever may be happening in their lives every day, and when a student seems down, teachers respond right away. Cole described a period of time when her son would not go to recess:
“When my son was in 4th grade, the 5th graders were not letting him play a game. The teacher noticed that he was not participating and brought it to my attention. My son never would have mentioned it -- by the time he was home, recess was long over, and he wasn’t thinking about it. Since she noticed, we were able to fix it."
Now that her son is in 7th grade, Cole has had the opportunity to reflect upon Lake Forest Park’s impact on his life. The first word that comes to mind to describe her son is "confident," and she attributes this to the strong social and emotional education her son received while at Lake Forest Park. Not only is her son successful despite his impulse to control challenges, his whole class is confident, kind, socially aware, and able to handle each of their own challenges that children invariably face. Cole maintains that there are important lessons education policymakers could learn from Lake Forest Park’s commitment to social and emotional learning. While many schools are devoting their full attention to standardized testing, Lake Forest Park’s efforts to promote empathy, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving skills has played a large part in the school’s academic success.
Cole believes that more parents would appreciate the importance of social and emotional learning if they could see a Changemaker School like Lake Forest Park in action. In her own words,
“By seeing Roots of Empathy and showing [similar innovations] to the general public, I think that people’s perspectives will change.”
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