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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Overcoming Resistance to Social and Emotional Character Development in Your School

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

There is resistance in life to many great ideas, and resistance to social, emotional and character development (SECD) in schools is one of them. Let's make 2013 the year you break through whatever resistance you are finding in your educational setting. Here's how.

There are three main sources of resistance to SECD in schools. One comes from parents, some of whom feel that schools should not be addressing SECD, that matters of character and values are better left to the home. Another comes from teachers, who agree with parents about SECD being "the parents' responsibility." Teachers are also worried about how they are going to add SECD to their very full plates -- and with an accountability structure highly centered around standardized test scores and related indicators of accomplishment in math, language arts, and science.

Some are hesitant because their preparation as educators has not included SECD and they are not sure they know how to deliver it. Some also harbor ideas about SECD being akin to therapy, which it certainly is not.

The third source of resistance is the most problematic, however. It is the equivalent of the old military-industrial complex. I refer to it as the academic testing-preparation complex. This is a major industry, with consultants, big companies, sales forces, equipment, technology, and distribution systems. The money that goes into assessment (and away from instruction) is staggering. And sadly, too many educational leaders are in collusion with this complex.

As long as disproportionate efforts are being spent in test preparation, drilling, testing, and the like, educational leaders can evade their responsibility for creating positive conditions for learning in every school, in every community. Instead, the blame for failure falls on children and teachers. Tests get revised and refined, a core curriculum is created requiring entirely new testing regimens that will take years to develop and refine. True change requires a focus on creating school culture and climate that supports academic, social, emotional, and character development of children.

A New Year's Resolution

Genuine educators know why they went into the field of education and what children need. They need caring relationships in schools, which form the foundation of all lasting learning, and they need to have their hearts and minds developed, capacities challenged, and efforts supported. Educators also need those caring and supportive relationships. Seeking out these relationships is not secondary to overcoming resistance to SECD; it's primary.

Find one or more SECD buddies in your school. Read Paul Tough's new book, How Children Succeed, Daniel Goleman's old book, Emotional Intelligence, or something in between, like Elias and Arnold's, The Educator's Guide to Emotional Intelligence and Academic Achievement: Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom.

Have conversations and start supporting one another in SECD work. Even small steps are important (no great journey begins without them!)

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well, that intelligence plus character is the true goal of education. But he is neither the first nor the last to have expressed this sentiment. All of us in education should also be expressing it -- publicly and often.

Let's make 2013 the year of proudly proclaiming our commitment to social, emotional, and character development and joining with colleagues to take whatever steps we can to advance SECD in children under our care.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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