“Roots of Empathy”: A research study on its impact on teachers in Western Australia.

Glenda Cain, Yvonne Carnellor

Abstract


If the current view of literature is that social emotional competence is essential for academic learning and achievement, what does this mean for the classroom teacher? (McCombs 2004). What is emotional literacy? How can emotional competency be developed? The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact that training in social emotional learning has on the pedagogy and practice of classroom teachers. It examined the effect of the Canadian developed social-emotional learning program Roots of Empathy (ROE) on teachers, children, the classroom environment and its subsequent impact on the broader community. This research study documented the changes that occurred for teachers and children who participated in the social emotional learning program. It seeks to understand how both the instructor training and program implementation has impacted on the participants, what this has meant for their understanding of social emotional learning (SEL), how the children have responded to the program and what subsequent changes have occurred in their behaviours and learning. It investigated the perceptions of the participants to the effectiveness of ROE as an SEL learning program, its benefits and limitations. From collective data and current literature on SEL, conclusions and recommendations are made. ROE is currently operating in over 1100 classrooms in Canada, with a pilot program being implemented in Australia and New Zealand.
The findings of this phenomenology are significant in providing evidence-based research to inform the ongoing implementation of ROE in Australia and specifically Western Australia. For developing emotional literacy, the Roots of Empathy program was highly effective. It contributed positively to the professional learning of the teachers and increased their awareness of the emotional competencies of their children. It was also evident that pro-social behaviour of the children in the Roots of Empathy classes increased while bullying and aggression decreased. It was also noted that a whole school approach is essential for effective long term implementation of a chosen social emotional learning program and that administration support was a key factor to successful learning outcomes for all participants. Ongoing longitudinal evaluation of a social emotional learning program implementation is recommended to accurately evaluate the long term impact of these programs on the learning outcomes for students. Roots of Empathy is unique, even being described as "revolutionary in its potential to change the way young people see themselves and their world" (Gordon 2005, p.26), as it gives children direct experiential learning of emotional literacy through their interaction with a real baby.
This study emphasises the need for all teachers, and pre-service teachers, to be trained in programs that specifically address social-emotional competencies. It supports the need for all schools to be resourced to implement programs that explicitly teach social emotional learning, essential for students’ cognitive and academic skills’ development. What policymakers and educators must now address is the question, “Can we afford not to support this program?"

Keywords


social emotional learning;emotional literacy;socail competence

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