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Bringing Social, Emotional, and Character Development to Your School

| Maurice Elias

In an interview, Director of the Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning, Ed Dunkelblau, shares his wisdom in helping folks get started with social, emotional, and character development (SECD) in their classrooms and schools:

Data shows that teachers can do the usual drilling techniques to improve student academic performance, which lead to highly inconsistent results, or they can improve SECD and have their students' academic scores increase by about 11 percent. Why do so many educators do the former instead of the latter?

Ed Dunkelblau: I think that there are a couple of reasons that educators are hesitant to change what they do. First and foremost is how they set their priorities. Under NCLB, districts have been under a great deal of pressure to raise tests scores. When pressured, we all revert to what is most familiar and comfortable and for most educators traditional drilling is what they learned and what they grew up with.

Second, there is a perception that they don't have time to do something more. Many educators see SECD as an additional teaching responsibility that they just don't have the time to do given their already stressed teaching schedule. They see it as something else on their plate.

In fact it isn't something else on the plate but it is actually the plate itself, that upon which all other learning is dependent. Finally, many educators don't see SECD as their job. The have defined their teaching as presenting academic material not as preparing the whole child for success at school, job, and relationships.

How do you inspire courage in the educators you work with?

Doing this work really does require courage. It means changing from the status quo and seeing a bigger picture for the tasks of education. What we do to inspire educators is we try to help them realize that: a) they are already doing some of what we hold to be vital, and, b) as they think through what is most important to their students -- and themselves -- they realize that social emotional skills and developing core values are primary in their future success.

We ask questions like, "What kind of people do you want your students to be 10 years from now?" Very often educators are asked to do important things but they aren't given sufficient time and training to do them effectively. We try to structure the programming so that there is adequate professional development and that the timeline for implementation is reasonable.

Getting administrative mandate and support from principals or superintendents is also a vital link in the chain of courageous education. The educators must experience a safe environment for doing these acts or else all is for naught.

Say a bit more about how you use humor to help out in this process.

In doing any kind of professional development it's important to engage the audience and to help them maintain attention and focus. Humor is a way that when used effectively serves both of these purposes. Humor has been shown to improve memory for content and to support and encourage creative thinking.

Additionally, humor can sometimes disarm defenses and provide an effective way to address anxiety and the concerns of the audience. When we work with district professional development we try to inject humor in various modes -- story telling, cartoons, quotes -- to enhance the participants educational experience.

We also encourage educators who are interested in bringing more humor to their teaching to become a part of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor where they can hone their skills and meet like-minded professionals.

What resources have you found most valuable as introductions to SECD, video or print?

We have used a variety of resources in supporting the sustainable implementation of SECD initiatives. These resources include a number of the videos to be useful. One in particular is the Barry Schwartz video on practical wisdom where he makes a compelling case for teaching acting and doing the "right thing."

We also use some print materials that summarize and support the learning done in workshops and meetings. The inexpensive Social Emotional and Character Development quick reference card has been a favorite of teachers and administrators. The UNESCO pamphlet on emotional intelligence and academics is very helpful and a great summary of SEL thinking, plus its downloadable at no cost. The CASEL.org and Character.org Web sites are a wealth of information that is immediately usable by educators.

What take away and what action steps would you want readers to derive from this interview?

If the readers are interested in bringing an SECD initiative to their setting, I hope that they address three areas. They must address not only the content of what SECD materials are to be taught but also the process of how they go about integrating the teaching into the fabric of the school and their pedagogy.

They must also be attuned to the social marketing of the initiative that is designed to gain buy-in from the entire community. Recognizing that by doing the SECD work, grades and test scores will go up is usually a good place to start the conversation.

Finally, they must recognize that SECD is not an add-on program, it is a integrative strategy for helping students develop the skills and perspectives that they need to be good students, have caring relationships, and participate in their communities as responsible citizens.

Please share your ideas on SECD with us!

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4th grade teacher from Gainesville, FL

How can we make it real for the kids?

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My school is going to start using the Responsive Classroom and the STEP program for bullying next year. Our students desperately need social,emotional, interpersonal and character education as they seem to have a sense of entitlement. I am wondering how do we bring SECD into the school and make it feel like it is not something separate from the day to day? As far as I know the STEP program consists of lessons we'll do in the classroom during morning meeting, but in the past I have found that those types of lessons come off feeling forced. I really want this to work for my school. Any advice on how to transition and make it real?

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