Head of School Blog

Developing Tomorrow's Empathetic Leaders


My dad and Laurence's founder, Marvin Jacobson, always says that empathy is a key ingredient to a child's overall success in school and in life, and that, first and foremost, empathy comes from being empathized with. At Laurence, we acknowledge our students' emotions and the importance of listening carefully to them without judgement. We also help them to recognize and express their own feelings, which makes them better able to recognize the feelings of others. 

Studies indicate that empathy is also one of the most important traits for successful leadership, driving innovation, engagement and inclusivity. Pointing to leaders such as Apple's Tim Cook, the Harvard Business Review shares research that shows successful leaders cultivate empathetic environments and cultures.

Empathy is a skill that can be learned, and it continues to be an important focus of the social and emotional learning (SEL) component of educating the "Total Child" at Laurence. Both our Global Education and Service Learning programs help students expand their awareness beyond themselves so that they see themselves as part of something larger. By connecting with peers in other countries or helping people in their own communities, students see the interconnectedness of our world.

This year, School Counselor, Dr. K, and Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Christina Rios, are implementing a newly developed SEL curriculum that includes lessons tying in our "Keep Kind in Mind" Character Education Program with activities that build students' empathy skills. Recently, Dr. K and Mrs. Rios have discussed the importance of being present, open, flexible and curious, all important aspects of developing empathetic environments

Students are also learning how to tune in to non-verbal communications. Students are engaging in a variety of exercises that allow them to practice identifying how someone might be feeling based on facial expressions. After guessing, they also discuss that people might react to the same situation differently to drive home the point that people approach situations from multiple perspectives. In another lesson, students look at classic images that play on people's visual perspectives to spur discussion about how people may view real world situations differently.

As we move forward with deepening our students' empathy skills, I hold my dad's advice very dear, and carry it with me each day when I step onto this campus. Our goal is to help children grow up to be tomorrow's successful leaders – leaders whose empathy will help to create a more equitable and inclusive world that provides opportunities for everyone.