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The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning: How You Can Implement it In Your School

| Bonnie Bracey Sutton

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How many of us have had children in our classes who were withdrawn, quiet loners?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?

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Comments (18)

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Jimmy Kilaptrick (not verified)

Our children are under the

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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 (not verified)

We teach and live in

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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.
Herb Coleman (not verified)

After events like this it's

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After events like this it's all too common an excercise for us to look for "reasons" and thus find ways to prevent a re-occurrance of such an event. Plain and simple there were no "logical" reasons for this. The shooter was identified as "mentally ill" (still too broad a designation in my book) and did receive in patient treatment. When he was released he refused to follow up with out patient treatment. His name should have been flagged on a list that should have prevented him from buying a hand gun at Walmart (however he could have eaisily gotten one at a gun show or through other means). By all accounts, teachers and fellow students made efforts to reach out to this young man. He, for whatever reason, was locked in his own world. We may never discover the "cause" of this incident and I risk creating a climate of fear to say that we might not ever be able to prevent it from happening again. After all Columbine was not the first inicdent of it's kind. It's a real possibility that this, too is just one more example of human behavior that is unpredictable and without the most severe measures unstoppable. But that's just my opinion...or is it?
Bonnie Bracey Sutton (not verified)

Actually, I was a loner

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Actually, I was a loner in school , until I went to college. There are many reasons that people may be loners. I suppose mine was that my family , my mother and father were teachers and they chose to live in a poor neighborhood to help uplift the community. I was a teacher's child. I don't think I was loved by the rest of the kids a lot. We had things, and could achieve, and were articulate. All the same, it was a lonely path. I was simply saying that it is important to know more about students. My teachers knew me.. first they were mostly nuns, and I guess it did not help that they had chosen me to be one of them.. but my father dissented. There is room for loners.. but sometimes there are questions to be asked and knowledge to be gained. There are introverts and there are extroverts. Sometimes we change roles. Bonnie
Linda Locklear (not verified)

The recent tragic events at

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The recent tragic events at VT will surely elicit a "knee-jerk" reaction and teachers will once again be mandated/encouraged to teach more "anti-bullying" classes. This is not realistic as we will all be bullied someday, somewhere, whether in school or over a parking space at the grocery store. The focus must turn not be on the victims of this event but the shooter who was obviously mentally ill as are all of those who take the lives of others. What should be addressed is the need for more help for these individuals and more accountability for those who treat them. I teach students who are in mental health crisis, ages 7-17 and one of our most basic classroom goals is to teach these students the coping skills that they do not have, for various reasons and we try to do this through academics. As was stated is other post2 above, it is not the general personality that determines whether or not one is a potential threat to others, it is the way we react to or cope with situations.
Helen Otway (not verified)

As a classroom teacher I

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As a classroom teacher I have found that students do not readily say or are able to explain how they are feeling. For our morning talk sessions I ask the students to not only tell about what they have done or experienced, but how they felt about it or what impact it made on them or someone else. We record words that the students use in their morning talk on the whiteboard. As the words are recorded students become more aware of expressing their feelings in their morning talk or share time. Students are invited to choose an emotion word from the board (or one of their own) to record onto a card and decorate to match the emotion. For example, if the word is 'excited' they may use bright colours and images of people jumping up and down. The cards are laminated for durability and then used during morning talk sessions. The cards are spread out onto the floor with the children sitting in a circle around them. Children are asked to pick up at least 2 or 3 cards and use them in their morning talk. As new emotion words are introduced more cards are added. I have noticed that in time my students become better reflective thinkers and communicators of their feelings as well as more aware of the emotions of others. This is only one little step in opening up communication and trust in my classroom.
Bill Dunsay (not verified)

Many classrooms if not most

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Many classrooms if not most in the US are organized that way and have been for some time. Character Ed is big right now. Children have been doing class jobs for over 40 or 50 years. Back in the 1950s we had chalkboard washers and eraser clappers (you went outside and banged them together to release the dust) so class jobs are not new. The real problem is that we don't place enough value on children and education. Our economy has changed but we have not put enough resources into educating students for today's world. In fact our heros and those we admire earn gazillions of dollars and youth are directed to emulate them. The government passes legislaton that requires high stakes testing and also promises tons of money to support our efforts but then doesn't keep their end of the bargain. So that's the best example of cheating. Our celebrities are high on criticism and low on values. They don't hesitate to accept 20 milllion to play act and how much goes to contributions to education or hospitals and medical programs. The tabloids highlight important issues like which celebrity is in rehab, gained or lost weight, has a particular sexual preference or just redid their face and body. And we eat this junk up! If those issues are imporrtant to us is it any wonder that the shooter was ignored. The problem is about the values of our society not about making the schools to be solely responsible to solve societies problems. If that is the real case then build the dormitories. This is a complex problem and educators can only be part of the solution. It begins at home, the White House and congress.
Mary Utne O'Brien (not verified)

GLEF has provided educators with

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GLEF has provided educators with terrific resources on emotional intelligence and SEL. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) exists to promote the science of SEL (what works best? with what impacts? etc.) and to provide information and resources so that educators are well-equipped to help their students develop to their fullest--socially, emotionally, and academically. GLEF readers can find SEL resources at www.CASEL.org.
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