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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning: How You Can Implement it In Your School

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

Like everyone, I was shaken by the massacre last week at Virginia Tech. It is clear that the shooter had severe emotional and mental problems that could have been addressed much earlier.

This latest incident of mass violence and suicide will certainly focus attention once again on the causes of violence, and will lead to renewed conversations about gun control, our country's broken health care and mental-health systems, and the impact of media violence on the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of children. Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and education professor and director of the University of Virginia's Virginia Youth Violence Project, discussed these issues in a recent conversation with the Washington Post.

How many of us have had children in our classes who were withdrawn, quiet loners? What kinds of indications should teachers be taught to watch out for? How do we learn more about the feelings of the children we teach, and how do we equip them to deal with emotions such as anger, sadness, aggression, loneliness?

GLEF, a vocal proponent of social and emotional learning, has published hundreds of resources on emotional intelligence.

Even if your school has not instituted a formal program in support of social and emotional learning, you can initiate plenty of activities in your own classroom. To begin, recognize that an emotionally intelligent teacher is the first step to an emotionally intelligent class. Consider how your own communication with and treatment of students models healthy emotional intelligence.

Here are some student-centered activities and resources you can use in support of your classroom efforts:

? Institute morning meetings. Starting your day with a morning class meeting provides numerous opportunities to support social and emotional learning: It helps build a sense of community, creates a climate of trust, encourages respectful communication, and much, much more. You'll find information about morning meetings, as well as other strategies for fostering emotional intelligence, at the Web site The Responsive Classroom.

? Introduce journal writing. This familiar activity can be effective in developing self-awareness among students.

? Emphasize responsibility. Formalize tasks in your classroom, such as maintaining chalkboards or whiteboards, bringing papers to the school office, or handing out balls and other playground equipment at recess. Such duties encourage a sense of responsibility among students and provide everyone with the opportunity to contribute to daily management of the class.

? Encourage creativity. Joshua Freedman, director of programs for Six Seconds a nonprofit organization supporting emotional intelligence in families, schools, corporations, and communities, suggests that creativity is most necessary in times of emotional hardship, such as when we're frustrated or angry. By providing your students with ongoing opportunities to express their creativity, you'll also be helping them handle the inevitable curve balls life throws at them. You'll find a helpful article on ideas and activities for using creativity to foster emotional intelligence at KidSource OnLine.

? Use literature to support social and emotional learning. The Heartwood Institute, which has developed an ethics curriculum for elementary school students, has compiled a list of multicultural children's literature (for students in primary and intermediate grades) that explore ethical themes, such as courage, hope, respect, and justice.

What emotional-intelligence resources do you find valuable?

Comments (18)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Michael Martin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You ask: "How many of us have had children in our classes who were withdrawn, quiet loners? What kinds of indications should teachers be taught to watch out for?"

I was a quiet loner. In high school I ate lunch away from the rest of the students. Friends would usually find me, and eventually after several days a crowd would form and I would have to find a new place to eat.

I am a quiet loner. I still prefer to do things myself, and alone. I am married and have a wonderful son who is a straight "A" student, a star scout, and band member. But we almost never have people over to our house. My wife has her activities, my son has his, and I have mine. We admire each others' world but we are individuals.

I don't think being a quiet loner is a problem. Charles Manson had a large circle of friends. Gacy was a church deacon. Gangs are a social plague. The problem with the VT killer was that he was known to be mentally ill and received no treatment. It doesn't matter whether a mentally ill person is a loner or the leader of a cult. It is the mental illness that is the problem.

Celia Szelwach's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In the Master's course I teach for Group Development and Change, the students complete a Team Project and make a presentation at the end of the course to review their learning and demonstrate understanding. Recently, my students demonstrated the development of their EI through these Team Projects by discussing how they set ground rules guiding their behaviors including listening, giving constructive feedback, and asking questions. The students discussed how they collaborated to reach consensus in their decision-making. They achieved their team charter through the interpersonal relationships they maintained and learned a lot about each other and teams in the process.

I also asked my students to complete a self-assessment that we are piloting online called the ESAP from the book Emotional Intelligence: Achieving Academic and Career Excellence by Drs. Darwin Nelson and Gary Low. While the ESAP doesn't measure actual EI ability or competence per se, it does help the student develop self-awareness of EI skills and where development is needed to improve self-regulation and respond to others more effectively. Another instrument I use is the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP-I) which is available online in self-assessment or 360 degree formats. The CDP-I is incredibly helpful in raising the student's self-awareness of Hot Buttons, constructive behaviors, and destructive behaviors utilized before, during, and after conflicts. The CDP-I is described in the book Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader by Dr. Craig Runde and Tim A. Flanagan.

Finally, as a parent I discovered a simple and highly effective way for helping my 7 1/2 year old son express his feelings constructively. I purchased a poster demonstrating 16 different feelings depicted by little bears. These feelings range from Happy, Excited, Proud to Angry, Lonely, and Bored. One day my son came home from 2nd grade feeling distraught and unable to express his feelings or name them. I pulled out this poster and walked him through his feelings and shared how I felt during the day. It's become a daily ritual to help us both process our emotions and feelings with each other in order to reduce our stress and improve our parent-child communication. On the back of the poster are three reproducible worksheets to journal, draw, and discuss. I bought one for his teacher to share in class when students need to take 10. The poster is called "How Do You Feel?" published by Teacher's Friend Publications. ISBN 0-439-54940-X

While I can't speculate on what the root causes were for the VT tragedy, I will say that students need to develop more self-awareness throughout their educational process and learn the skills of self-regulation and constructive collaboration with others. Social and Emotional Learning is and essential life skill.

Celia Szelwach, DBA (ABD)
Creative Collaborations Consulting, Inc.
Adjunct Faculty Webster University

Tiffany Taylor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dr. Becky Bailey's Conscious Discipline has changed by my life personally and professionally. As the article says, emotionally intelligent children can only be nurtured through an emotionally intelligent teacher. Conscious Discipline asks you to examine your own beliefs and social-emotional skills and to realize that many of those old beliefs are based on fear. I learned to understand environmental and natural influences on my own behavior as well as my children's-then I learned developmentally appropriate ways to teach EQ skills and create a school family where teacher and children are connected. Her work is based on current brain and heart research and empowers educators to create environments that are emotionally and physically safe. I can't say enough about what a difference it made to me as a teacher and a person.

Ed Dunkelblau's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am saddened by the events at VT. I am equally disheartened by the knee jerk reaction of those seeking to prevent future incidents by encouraging more weaponry and stricter policing. If we seek to stop violence by taking the gun out of the killer's hand, we have already lost the battle. The answer as discussed in the article is to build community and to enhance individuals' social and emotional skills so that they can cope better, engage others for support and that they can live in an environment of safety and good citizenship.
All schools need an organized integrated initiative for teaching social and emotional behaviors which in turn will build good character and provide for safer, civil learning environments.

Susan Espersen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach in a prison. What impact might early intervention have had on the lives of my students and their victims? When will we quit wasting money on incarceration that could have been better spent years earlier on prevention!

Carolyn Torrey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I note your article blame the guns. Guns are not the problem. It is a people problem. My husband grew up with proper gun handling and my son is learning the same respect. The moment you take away guns is the moment only outlaw will have guns. Outlawing drugs have not stopped outlaws from getting drugs.

The media glorifies the wrong use. When we grew up the media. Had Lassie, Leave it to Beaver, My three Sons all had good morals to teach the right thing to do. Now we allow and reward and foster single parenting. Children are worse off.

I am married with 2 children, same husband, my college sweetheart, I feel as if I am a endangered species. Children need both parents they need the male side of the equation to have balance. There are always problems. Our society, our relationship, and our school system needs to learn problem solving techniques.

Our forefather recognized the importance of God in their lives. The placed in rights for religious freedom, but in the documents, momentary, and there writings they recognized the need for God in there lives. At every turn God and church are being removed now we have real problems and no social tools to help.

Our children are tested to the brink. They are so stressed. Results of these test can make or break a school under NCLB. Teachers are stressed that the results will determine next year, pay, placement or a their career. They can't teach morals or social techniques. This is more of a problem.

NCLB is based on a false premises. That all children will reach proficiency at 2012. I have 2 gifted children. We are all given different gifts. My son will not be NFL material, I realize this, I do not force the NFL to put him on there team it is not in the genes. It is the same with academics. My finding of the effect of the law have meant the loss of programs for the high level children. We are shifting the $ away from the future. Little gains have resulted in this shift of emphasis.

My children are loosing the next years classes they are being removed and replaced for the lowest quartile. My daughter finished Algebra I Honors but will not be able to get her next math class. My son has never missed a question on nationally testing. They won't move him up and they won't allow him to take the upper level classes. He is not allowed to excel. I guess this is going to the dumbing down of America.

My experiences in my area have shown the school system it self is very bad in shutting down communication. They do not want to solve problems. If you do not agree with there actions they immediately shut the door and there is no discussions. If these practices are widespread it is a no wonder the school have been the targets. Sad but true.

Jimmy Kilaptrick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our children are under the greatest stress of any generation and the issues are spiraling out of hand. As a professional special education I deal with children having a variety of issues regarding mental and behavioral health. The sad state I find is the lack of professional services available for these children already defined and needing help in the schools.

Can schools provide the intense intervention necessary to make a difference? Considering the many Barriers to Learning facing children and our educators there are not enough professional or the funding currently available to address the social and mental issues in our school society. Blaming and shaming parents and society in general is the not the answer. Expanding more behavioral health issues into the classroom curriculum is not the answer. We have already sacrificed academics requirements over the years by attempting to address a slew of social issues. The vast majority of students are not reading well, unable to do math at levels required to attend college, half the minorities drop-out by 4th grade and so on.

Until schools address the many needs of the emotion disturbed children we are just spinning in the wind thinking we can address behavioral and other mental health issues in the general classroom.

Jimmy Kilaptrick
Editor, EdNews.org

Lynda DeLuca's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We teach and live in a world of "don't tell". Children learn at a very young age that they don't or shouldn't "tell" on other children. By the time they reach my grade, 6th grade, the culture is built and even if another student expresses violent thoughts and plans...the students don't tell. Perhaps we need to teach them the difference betweening tattling and helping. Even though the incident at Virginia Tech. is emotionally disturbing to all of us we cannot let it pass without helping our students to understand how important it is to get their classmates help.

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