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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Connecting SEL and the Common Core, Part One

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu)
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In the November 2014 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, I wrote an article on how social-emotional skills can boost implementation of the Common Core.

I want to share two key points from that article in this blog post and also in my next one. In this post, I focus on how the Common Core has an implicit dependence on SEL-related pedagogy. In the next blog post, I will focus on the key area of emotion vocabulary and its role in academic and interpersonal success.

College, Career, and Contribution Ready

What does it mean to be "college, career, and contribution ready"? It takes more than success in Common Core State Standards (CCSS) content areas. Ultimately, we are preparing our students for more than college and careers; we are preparing them to be productive members of society and valued members of their families and workplaces.

We want our students to adopt a collaborative stance, embrace diversity, and be ready for the globalized and interconnected world they -- and we -- increasingly inhabit. I call this college, career, and contribution ready.

More and more, college is considered the starting point for life success. But college poses many interpersonal and logistical challenges, particularly to students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and whose dropout rates have been estimated as high as 80 to 90 percent. College is not simply an extension of high school; for many young people, it represents a significant crossroads in their lives.

Therefore, it's no surprise that college life arouses many strong emotions. These emotions include: 1) anxiety about establishing a new identity, 2) dealing with acceptance by one's family, 3) loss of old peer groups and finding new ones, 4) managing a new and different kind of workload, 5) making choices of courses and majors, 6) establishing a range of new relationships with peers and adults, and, 7) lifestyle choices about use of leisure time, studying, eating, and sleeping.

Many of these concerns have direct parallels when one enters a new career path, particularly if it involves relocation. We know from analyses of college dropout and job failures that such outcomes are less the result of intellectual shortcomings than they are due to deficiencies in the social-emotional and character competencies (or moral and performance character, if you prefer that terminology).

What is Necessary?

The CCSS does not adequately acknowledge either the interpersonal context in which learning takes place, or the overall climate of caring and supportive relationships needed for content knowledge to be acquired, internalized, and put to flexible use.

Pragmatically, the CCSS asks student to learn in ways they typically have not done before, and without explicitly and continuously preparing them to do so. The CCSS implicitly requires that students:

  1. Elaborate their reasoning clearly, support their own arguments, and challenge their classmates, respectfully.
  2. Exhibit strategic thinking, including analyzing their own strategies, and develop meta-cognitive skills.
  3. Believe in the value of hard work and resilience and possess a mindset supportive of perseverance in the face of difficulty.
  4. Be oriented toward independence and responsibility for learning and believe that they ultimately are responsible for what they do with their learning, which requires integrity. (And this transfer needs to be encouraged through distinguished teaching.)
  5. Possess social and emotional competencies.

Rationale for SEL in Schools

It's important that schools focus on children's well-being, emotions, happiness, self-esteem, and potential contributions to society, as well as having a vested interest in systematically teaching the skills required for CCSS success and high test scores.

Educational administrators interested in improving teaching at their school sites must know that teachers cannot become proficient, let alone distinguished, if their students lack abilities in communication, meta-cognition, resilient mindset, responsible character, and social-emotional learning.

Those who are charged with the responsibility for helping our children become college, career, and contribution ready need to emphasize both the academic and SEL skills necessary for success.

The data are so compelling, and business leaders, parents, those in higher education, and those concerned with civic engagement all realize that we cannot afford to educate anything less than the whole child.

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Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu)

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Katie Brackenridge's picture

Thanks for this helpful perspective. As districts think about how to implement SEL and CCSS effectively, they should be looking to their partners in the expanded learning space. School and community-based after school and summer learning programs are already being intentional about the social and emotional supports that young people need. In quality programs, staff are trained and experienced in creating the safe, welcoming environments, meaningful learning opportunities, and positive relationships that are essential to SEL. Teachers, staff and most importantly, students will benefit if the school day and expanded learning programs are learning from each other and using more coherent and consistent strategies. A new initiative in California - Expanded Learning 360/365 - is helping build those connections. (http://www.temescalassoc.com/db/el/)

Katie Brackenridge, Partnership for Children and Youth

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