The Collaborative Classroom: An Interview with Linda Darling-Hammond | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Collaborative Classroom: An Interview with Linda Darling-Hammond

The Stanford University education professor says social and emotional learning is a crucial part of teaching the whole child.
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The Collaborative Classroom: An Interview with Linda Darling-Hammond (Transcript)

Linda: When you think about how you want to educate the whole child, it's critical to be sure that you're helping kids be able to engage with one another, understand themselves and how they think, be able to handle the stresses and challenges in their lives which are increasing all of the time. Kids today come in many cases from very challenging environments. So it's impossible really to focus on preparing teachers, preparing leaders for public schools without dealing with social and emotional learning as well as academic learning if they're going to be effective. In the work we do in teacher education we build in social emotional learning into adolescent development courses, into learning theory courses, really in a variety of ways throughout the program not only for teachers to learn how to help students get along with one another, develop socials skills and emotional skills, but also to help teachers and leaders figure out how to support themselves as social emotional learners. It's a very, very intense kind of work. You have to be able to relate well to a variety of kids and other adults. You have to be able to manage relationships on an ongoing basis. You have to be able to calm yourself and be deliberative in working in situations that are very unpredictable. And the best teachers in fact I believe are very emotionally intelligent. They're very socially intelligent and the same thing is true for school principals and school leaders. So I think this work around how we understand ourselves, how we understand others, how we work together is sort of at the core of so many aspects of education.

The other piece that I think is critically important in addition to preparing people to do this work in the classroom is thinking about how we design schools so that they are developmentally healthy places. You can't just plunk this kind of work down in the middle of a school that is antithetical to good human relationships. Schools need to be places where strong relationships can form.

That's not the environment that we have at all schools. We are still struggling to get past the factory model school that we inherited in the early 1900s which adopted age grading so kids go to different teachers every year. In the middle and high schools they go to different teachers in many cases every 45 minutes. Teachers have 150 or 180 or 200 kids a day in this model. And much of the environment particularly in big urban factory model schools is punitive and coercive because it's about control of large numbers of people being asked to do things that are not natural. So we've got to redesign schools and people are working on this to create smaller environments that are more personalized where adults and kids stay together over periods of time, where teams of teachers can work with each other around the needs of the kids as well as with the kids directly.

Often when we think about social and emotional learning we think about teaching kids skills of interaction and skills of self-management. We don't always think about the ways in which that kind of learning comes together with a particular kind of teaching strategy. But if you think about the ways in which we have to be able to be functioning adults, it's in contexts where we work in groups on hard problems that need creative solutions that require problem solving. And it's getting to do that work well that is really part of the major goal of education in the 21st century. So when you think about project-based learning, learning that results in demonstrations of performance, exhibitions of what kids can do in real tasks that have brought these kind of novel challenges to them to solve, you can see that when an individual student or a group of students come together to solve a hard problem to figure out how to do research, how to do inquiry, how to investigate, how to put their ideas together, how to figure out which ideas have the most grounding, how to present what they've done, they have to do a lot of socially intelligent work. They have to be able to figure out how to relate to one another, how to divide tests, how to solve problems, how to probably run into dead ends, pick up the pieces, reorient and go in a new direction. All of that develops children's abilities to be socially capable, emotionally capable and grounded, and in the long run also intellectually capable. And those pieces all come together when you're working on project-based experiential learning activities.

Some years ago in New York City a group of educators began to redesign high schools. One of the very famous school designers, Debbie Meier, had been initially a kindergarten teacher and had designed several elementary schools that were very, very successful, and then she wanted to create a high school that those kids could go to. When she designed the first such model Central Park East Secondary School she designed it so that teams of teachers would work with the same group of kids over two years at a time. The kids would stay together. The teachers would have time to plan around the needs of the kids. Every student has an advisor. Every advisor has about 15 kids that they are personally responsible for. They meet with the parents several times a year. The students learn how to become responsible for their learning and their interactions with their parents about their learning. Much of the work in school is around teamwork and group work. Kids learn to work interactively and they demonstrate their work through authentic assessments, performance-based learning exhibitions and so on which give them the opportunity to learn to be disciplined and organized and to persevere in the face of challenges in a lot of the other aspects of emotional development and social development that we need them to have. So that school actually became one of a number of schools that were organized around those features where kids were graduating at higher rates, where kids were experiencing a much safer school environment where they were more connected to school, more socially responsible, taking more leadership roles. That movement really has evolved into a small-schools movement nationwide. We've developed some schools in the Bay Area in San Francisco that use the same kind of model and they provide the opportunity for children to grow up feeling confident, learning how to be members of a community, being engaged with and thoughtful about their learning because they're doing it in authentic ways that help them develop not only the academic skills but also the skills of being independent, being plan-ful, being purposeful, being able to mediate challenges. And these are the features of social, emotional, and academic learning that people need when they go into the world outside of school. And I think that when we think about the whole system of education we have to put this kind of learning at the heart of the system.

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Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Orlando Video Productions

Production Assistant:

  • Neil Tan

Linda Darling-Hammond's interview was recorded on December 10, 2007, at the CASEL Forum, an event in New York City that brought together seventy-five global leaders in education and related fields to raise awareness about social and emotional learning (SEL) and introduce important scientific findings related to SEL.

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