As educators, in our modern school system, we are called not only to empower the minds of the students entrusted to our care, but also to nurture their hearts. The duality of this calling has touched the ‘why’ of educators ever since...well...forever. But today, more than ever, our schools are armed with both ethos and curriculum that make attending to the heart, and character of students, a top priority. Educating the Whole Child is neither a catchphrase nor a slogan, but a mandate, critical to the success of the students and communities we serve.
At Liberty Ridge Elementary our mission statement reads: “Together we succeed; no exceptions, no excuses.” Therefore, as a staff, we commit to focusing on solutions that are within our control from bell-to-bell. We will not let the multitude of outside influences cloud our vision of success for our students. Adopting the PurposeFull People curriculum served as an excellent solution to our questions of:
- How can we make character conversations as regular and expected in our classrooms, like math and writing?
- What intentional and explicit character lessons can we teach our students?
However, as a leadership team, we challenged ourselves to do even more with the time we have with students (bell-to-bell). We changed the way we serve our students breakfast so that our entire school starts each day together at our school-wide morning meeting focused on a PurposeFull People character lesson. We adjusted our master schedule to accommodate daily SEL instruction as the first classroom lesson in 5 out of the 6 grade levels across the school. We utilize a variety of restorative practices in our daily service of supporting students when they make poor choices (and children are known to do that occasionally). We’ve fully implemented Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for students who need additional scaffolding, in helping them rise to the expectations of our school. These were the structures we adopted as a school team to support all our students, every day, in every classroom.
And yet...we wanted to do more. “Bell-to-bell” keeps us focused on solutions within our control and sphere of influence. And yet...deep down...we always want to do more. As a leadership team, we asked ourselves the question, “How can we possibly extend our sphere of influence after that last bell rings?” And always we are asking ourselves, “How can we connect with the families we serve in more meaningful and empathetic ways?” One answer came to us in the form of PurposeFull Parents.
In order to share our LRE ‘heart’ with our community, we needed to create an offering to parents that would be seen as valuable investment of their time. We found the PurposeFull People curriculum to be a perfect platform to wrap our evening around. And thus, a monthly parent’s night dubbed ‘PurposeFull Parents’ was born. We made personal phone calls to ensure we got the word out to a variety of parent perspectives. And at our first inaugural PurposeFull Parents night, we had 14 parents attend! We asked that they bring only an open mind and the willingness to connect with other parents.
We opened the evening with a community circle designed to introduce ourselves, break down initial barriers, and begin in building trust. A dual benefit and intention was to embed our parents into the content and structures we use at school with their children. We then used activities from each of the 5 pillars of the S.E.R.V.E model (with a parent twist) to immerse ourselves, as adults, into the experience of our kids. This also helped to create a common language that could be infused in the home for discussing honesty, as well as providing a background for parents to help enrich the conversations with their children surrounding character lessons learned at school.
It was amazing how quickly our evening turned into an open forum of parents sharing their experiences in an honest and vulnerable way. Talking about the hearts of our kids had an immediate emotional impact on the small group gathered. While we did share some of our strengths and ideas, it was amazing how quickly parents began to share their common struggles when we first acknowledged that we ALL struggle. This shared experience of parenthood requires everything of you. To see, talk, and connect with other parents, put the entire room on common ground…myself included. I was one of those sharing my good-intentioned faults. As a parent, I was a member of their circle, and I was impacted by their support.
We finished the evening with Liberty Ridge’s transparent admission of our future intent. Our school intends to use this PurposeFull Parents platform to create a two-way circuit of influence. We will openly strive to positively influence character education in the homes of our community, and we invited this parent group to openly influence our school, specifically our Tier 1 Team. Only through open dialog, and face-to-face interaction, can we see the hearts and tap the minds of the parent group we serve.
It remains to be seen what can become of this promising start to our PurposeFull Parents group. But, if it is to achieve the goals set before it, one thing is for certain...it must become, and remain, just that...purposeful.
Corey has spent the last 37 years of his life in schools...19 of those as an educator! He started his career at a private Christian school in Renton teaching in multi-aged classrooms comprised of 19 different ethnic groups. For the last 13 years, he has served in his home community district, SBLSD, as a classroom teacher, Behavior/Family Support Specialist, Student Success Dean, and Assistant Principal at the elementary level.