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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Social Emotional Learning

Social Emotional Learning

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In my role as a school coach and graduate level instructor, I work with a lot of schools and a lot of teachers. No matter where I am- rural, urban, elementary, secondary- and no matter what topic we're discussing, we come back to the same big idea:

In order to be truly successful, there are things kids need to know that go BEYOND the curriculum. How can students learn to be fully developed citizens and human beings, able to function not only from an intellectual perspective (which can be challenging enough!) but also from an empathetic, visceral place?

The question isn't new- much of what currently falls under the heading of Social-Emotional Learning can actually be traced back to Socrates admonishment that one must "Know thyself." But is "knowing myself" a trickier proposition in the 21st Century? Should schools and teachers be responsible for supporting the social and emotional development of their students and, if so, how can we do so without sacrificing content knowledge? If not, whose job is it? And what will be the cost if we *aren't* attentive to this aspect of education?

I can't wait to hear what you're thinking!

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Kristen Swanson's picture
Kristen Swanson
Teacher, Leader, Edcamper, Learner

I think honing students "eq" (emotional quotient) has never been more critical. As collaboration becomes global, we need to help kids work together and interact in a socially healthy way. Schools should be responsible for helping students to increase their "eq." It's one of the most critical skills for success!

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Laura,
In my opinion, a big 'YES' to your questions. Schools must be responsible for teaching S&E intelligence to young people. To my mind, this is part of the civilising mission of schools. If we believe schools are nurseries of future democratic citizens, then an understanding of empathy is vital to develop.

Another question is how schools might do this - I think it's too important to be left to ad-hoc approaches. Instead, schools need much more detailed programs.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think any time we're in contact with students, we have to be as aware of the emotional and social learning as we are of the pure academic content. After all, many of the 21st century skills, like collaboration, communication and creativity will depend highly on being able to work with others effectively while expressing your ideas fully in a way others can understand and appreciate them.

That said,this reminds me of a touchy conversation I had this past weekend. I spoke with a set of parents at a school event who were very concerned by one teacher's use of Facebook as part of a middle school science project, when they were doing everything possible to shield their kids from social media, largely based on privacy concerns. I understand their worries, but part of exposing kids to social media, for example, in the context of a school project, may also be layering on an opportunity to teach the social and emotional lessons during academic learning. But we have to think more about this balance than we used to, since the line between protecting our kids and overprotecting them is a lot fuzzier than its ever been before.
I'd much rather see kids learn about things, like the use of social media, in a context where discussions about issues as complex as privacy can also be addressed. Kids need to learn about the world, the good and the bad, but hopefully with a mentor or guide nearby to help as needed. That means not shying away from the fact that there's always the feelings and opinions of people on the other end of the keyboard to be considered. We have to acknowledge even as we put layers of communication technology between people, the message sent and the perception on the other side can be radically different. (just think how easy it is to misread the tone of an email, for example, depending on your current mood.)
I do worry that it's easier for people to objectify one another online than in person, which makes teaching students important lessons regarding social and emotional issues even more important. But I do think this sort of learning has to be integrated into the current curriculum, not live outside as a separate course or "to do" list. It should be part of creating a true learning community in every classroom, teaching children respect for themselves and others, even when they disagree, and modelling this behavior as teachers.
I hope this makes sense.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Edu Consultant. Blogger & Social Media Marketing at Edutopia

I think this is without question a YES in my book=> "Should schools and teachers be responsible for supporting the social and emotional development of their students and, if so, how can we do so without sacrificing content knowledge?"
The problem is, I think, that most teachers aren't truly prepared to do this. I remember like it was yesterday, how ill equipped my son's teachers were in the area of SEM. I don't fault them as I just don't think they felt that it was part of what they were expected to do. Coupled with sometimes, extreme pressure to get content taught and testing done, it was just one more thing that they just didn't feel they could tackle. And frequently they told me so!
i don't know what the answer is, except to say that if we ant to see this unfold, teachers need resources and training so that they can feel confident to support SEM in the classroom. I also think that the bigger picture is that schools need to be supported by their districts to do this as a community. Until that happens, I think we will see pockets of great success with SEM in schools across the country, but not the widespread action that I, for one would greatly support.

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I definitely believe it is part of the schools job to include SEL in the curriculum. It should be supplemented by what the family does at home. However, for a lot of students in America, school is the most stable and regular part of their lives. So teaching them how to love themselves, know themselves, and care for others is as important as teaching math, history, language, science, art, etc.

In order to engage in rich SEL, the classroom must be set up as a safe space. Students should feel comfortable sharing, opening up, and letting their classmates truly get to know them.

But how do you teach empathy, emotions, and social skills? This is a tricky one. Each teacher is entitled to design the learning differently. But I'm a fan of practicing and creating routines right at the beginning of the year. Every day, students would come in to my classroom, sit in a circle, and 2 or 3 students would be chosen to share. They can share anything with the group. How they're feeling, what they did last night, what they're looking forward to. In addition to this group share we practice working in pairs and groups, dealing with tough situations, and even proper greetings. I shake each students hand every morning, we make eye contact, and exchange morning greetings. Doing these things every day is not the answer to this difficult question, but it is a start!

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