Spreading the Word: Social, Emotional, and Character DevelopmentNovember 25, 2008 | Maurice Elias
You go to conferences and other professional-development experiences, check Web sites, read blogs, and participate in teleseminars and webinars. You gain great insight and knowledge, and you notice that many, if not most, of your colleagues have not shared this experience with you. How do you communicate this back at your home-school setting?
Even if you believe social, emotional, and character development (SECD) is the key to educational success in the twenty-first century, how do you get your colleagues to join you? What can you do so yours is not an isolated voice? How can you influence the practice and even the policy in your school and your school district to become more SECD focused? (Read my post "Character Development: The Other Side of the Report Card" to learn why teaching students SECD skills is so important.)
Here's the answer: Use your AEIS (pronounced like eyes). You must articulate, exemplify, inspire, and support. To the extent to which you are able to do these things, you will find yourself joined by an ever-increasing number of fellow travelers down a path to educational evolution. (Watch the Edutopia video Smart Hearts: Social and Emotional Learning Overview to see school districts that are teaching and assessing social and emotional skills the same way they assess skills in math and reading.)
Here are some tips and thoughts on how to use your AEIS:
Within thirty seconds, you need to be able to provide someone with a clear, cogent answer to these questions: Why is SECD important, and how will it help students improve academically? Your answer should be an "elevator speech," a thirty-second delivery given as if you were making your case to a colleague, an administrator, a school board member, or a parent in the short span of an elevator ride.
Being able to briefly articulate a compelling rationale for SECD opens the door to future conversations and even someone's willingness to learn more on the topic. If you are unable to provide a solid and concise justification, it is not likely anyone will want to hear much more or come to see what you are doing in your classroom or your school. (Read the Edutopia.org essay "Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?: Because It Helps Students Build Character" for ideas on developing a pitch to share with your school or your school district.)
Folks don't want to hear you talk about something you have not done. They certainly are unlikely to follow you down a path you have not traveled, or at least are not embarking on. To attract attention and interest, you must walk the talk. Find a willing colleague -- or two or three -- and start piloting the SECD activities you would like others to try. Or just start on your own.
Don't feel you have to have mastery of the activities in order to get started. It's perfectly OK to be more like a driver with a learner's permit than a NASCAR racing star. (Check out the Edutopia.org article "Emotional Intelligence: Putting Theory into Practice" to learn about strategies and activities you might like to use.)
It's one thing to read or hear about a program or technique and another to see a video, but what's most impressive is to see a colleague putting a program into action. Once you share it by showing it, others are more likely to follow.
By inviting others to observe your classroom or school, you do open yourself to scrutiny. But you are also declaring a willingness to learn in order to succeed. This vulnerability and courage can inspire your colleagues to leave their comfort zones and do the same.
Starting, of course, it not the point. The point is to continue on to successful implementation and results. But this achievement requires support. In fact, before you start down the road, you should be sure you have an SECD buddy from your school or a neighboring one, or someone with whom you can network through such SECD organizations as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, the Center for Social and Emotional Education, the Character Education Partnership, or TeachSECD. Support from another educator who is at least a little farther down the road is essential when challenges arise.
Articulate, exemplify, inspire, and support -- these are the AEIS of a movement that can change education. Most of us agree we need to adapt what we are doing to affect and serve all learners, and SECD is focused on creating a learning environment in which all students can reach their optimal potential.
How about if you start by preparing your thirty-second elevator speeches and then share them with Edutopia.org visitors here so others can learn from them and you can learn from others? Sharing and borrowing is a necessary educational practice if we are to successfully move our public schools forward.
The elevator is on the ground floor, and the doors are now closing. Ready, set, go!