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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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On Location at ASCD: SEL Is Alive and Well

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

I am writing this at the end of the annual conference of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), in New Orleans, where 10,000 attendees chose from over 400 sessions. But the big news, as far as I am concerned, is that social and emotional learning (SEL) is alive and well, represented by presentations from all over the United States and internationally.

Keynote speakers repeatedly emphasized the need to build caring relationships in classrooms and schools as a prerequisite to lasting gains in academic achievement. Specialists in turning low-performing schools around gave example after example of the need to engage children by focusing on something other than the skills in which they are most deficient.

The terms "social-emotional learning" and "social-emotional development" came up often in conference-program titles and in program content. Much of the time, SEL was linked to character education, service, and academics. In general, many people resonated positively to New Jersey's decision to use the term "social-emotional and character development" (SECD) as unifying, common language. (Check out the Web site TeachSECD.com, now under development.)

SEL in Alignment

I presented at a session titled "Academic Performance, School Climate, and Social-Emotional Factors: The Research-Practice-Policy Connection" as part of a team from the ASCD, the association's New Jersey affiliate (NJASCD), and Rutgers University's Developing Safe and Civil Schools (DSACS) Project, of which I am principal investigator. The purpose of our presentation was to illustrate how national, state, and local levels of addressing and implementing SEL can and should be in alignment.

ASCD project director Molly McCloskey spoke about the association's Whole Child initiative -- one that is a viable and positive alternative to the punitive and academically overfocused approach of No Child Left Behind -- and its emphasis on creating conditions in which all children will be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged in school.

Mariann Helfant, chair of the NJASCD's Executive Council, talked about how the association has embraced the Whole Child initiative as its focus, making it a consistent thread in its conference and professional-development activities and creating a presence for sharing accomplishments in SECD in its newsletter and on its Web site. The New Jersey association also supports the DSACS Project by embracing the term "social-emotional and character development" and encouraging other professional organizations in the state, such as the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and the New Jersey School Boards Association, to do the same thing.

Also, the NJASCD encourages visitors to its Web site to check out the PowerPoint presentation from a keynote speech at a recent annual conference about the Whole Child initiative and DSACS. Finally, at the level of implementation, DSACS works with schools to examine what they are already doing that is related to SECD and provides training and consultative services statewide. These services include helping schools better organize what they are doing to be aligned with best practices, with a structure for making these efforts sufficiently coordinated and continuous to have a powerful impact on students' lives.

As in School, So as in Life

DSACS is drawing on a growing research literature showing that success in school and life is strongly related to students' engagement and commitment to school and their seeing the school as a place for positive recognition, a place where their voices and contributions are valued, and a place they can attend and point to with pride.

Of course, parallel sentiments on the part of educators are essential if students are to successfully connect to their schools. There is a strong case to be made for systematic SECD skill development and identification of these skills with acquiring essential life habits, such as responsibility, respect, and integrity. Still, these instructional efforts, even from evidence-based programs, face an uphill struggle in schools in which the majority of students are not engaged.

Presentation attendees, who came from many other states as well as some neighboring countries, shared their own experiences in implementing SECD and the need to address the organization of SECD efforts and examine the ongoing school climate.

The take-away message about SEL is, be sure to align your SEL and SECD work at as many levels as possible. The more disconnected your efforts are, the less impact they will have. Here are some specific suggestions for doing so at various levels:

  • School: Align with building-level goals, grade-level goals, and local curriculum standards. SECD is not only about content; it's also about process and can be integrated into classroom management, school climate, codes of student conduct, and advisory periods. Above all, show how SECD efforts in your building complement each other.
  • School District: Align with district goals and standards and board-approved mandates and, in creative ways, show how SECD can help reach district goals.
  • State and National: Align with curriculum standards and show the connections with wider policies such as the ASCD's Whole Child initiative. By showing the connections of what you are doing with those operating elsewhere and in many other places, you can embolden your colleagues to take some steps forward for SECD.

Please share your thoughts.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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Comments (9)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Brian S. Friedlander's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Maurice:

It is great to hear that SEL is alive and well. It is critical that educators embrace these ideas and concepts and implement them in their classrooms. Keep up the great work that you are doing!

Regards
Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D.
AssistiveTek Blog
http://assistivetek.blogspot.com

Amy R's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a college graduate and new master's student, I am ashamed to say that this is my first time hearing about the efforts behind ASCD and the Whole Child initiative. I think the aspirations behind the Whole Child purpose are ones that would greatly benefit our public school systems. The five elements of Whole Child (healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged) are directly on target with my personal, classroom, and community goals. Also, I regard SEL as a key factor in academic achievement and life success. The point that you made concerning alignment at different levels is very important. We are all fighting for a common goal and to achieve that goal requires collaboration, support, and participation. Thank you so much for the information. This was very helpful for me. I intend on continuing to follow the progress that ASCD and the Whole Child initiative makes.
Amy R.
York, PA

Debra Miller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello: I was given this blogsite from my Masters course at Walden University. I am interested in learning more about SECD. I am an elementary in Southern New Jersey and have not heard about this in our district. Our district implements the International Baccalaureate Programme which focuses greatly on character education. Unfortuantely, my elementary school voted to discontinue this program. We are now using Lion's Quest as a form of character education. I am hoping someone may give me more information on the social-emotional learning aspect.

Susan McKay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Dr. Elias,

I am very interested in getting a representative to come to my school and discuss SECD as part of our professional development. Can you give me some information regarding this, and if this is feasible at this time?

I first read about SECD in the March 2008 NJEA Review magazine. I am a middle school LAL teacher. As a graduate of Rutgers, I am proud that Rutgers is taking a leadership role in this whole child approach. I saw the list of workshops, but other than those, I would like to get more information, and maybe present it first to my superintendent. Is the www.teachSECD my best source for now.

Thank you for your time,
Susan McKay
smckay@englewoodcliffs.org

Tara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found the information about the whole child cause very interesting and beneficial. I am a primary school teacher and strongly believe that a huge part of our job is to know our students. As teachers we must build a caring relationship with them. I make an effort to know what is going on in each one of my student's lives weekly. My school district works on character education focusing in on a new character trait each month. Our guidance department does a great job of getting this information out to our students. I am interested in presenting the whole child initiative to them.

Tara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found the information about the whole child cause very interesting and beneficial. I am a primary school teacher and strongly believe that a huge part of our job is to know our students. As teachers, we must build a caring relationship with them. I make an effort to know what is going on in each one of my student's lives weekly. My school district works on character education focusing in on a new character trait each month. Our guidance department does a great job of getting this information out to our students. I am interested in presenting the whole child initiative to them.

Kira's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am curious about this. I am a fairly new elementary teacher in a small town in California. We implement the "40 Assests" program as well as "Character Counts" program based on the book, Inch and Miles, to build self esteem. Many school districts in the area use similar programs, but I mostly hear about the 40 assests. Is anyone familiar with this? We have even had parent nights to educate the families about the concepts of the 40 assets programs. Although with the recent budget cuts, I have not seen as much attention to educating the families as I did the past couple of years. I guess I assumed social and emotional learning was happening in schools all over the country. Interesting though, I do not remember this from when I was in school.

Gordon Cooper's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi my name is Gordon Cooper
Like Deborah I was given this site in my masters class. My school district has implemented two programs that paralell what you are calling social and emotional learning. We set goals that we aligned with our mission statement at each building in the district our school incorporated
PBSor Positive Behavior System with this it has been a real boost to school climate. Also our kids have done well in the test we give them that aligns with NCLB.
Our school has only 8th and 9th graders so this
may affect some of the outcomes I am excited that our district has shown some foresite in implementing current educational thought and action

Christy Hallum's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe it is very important to educate the whole child. I work in a school where my students come with much more on their mind than the core curriculum they are expected to learn. If I did not try to meet their other needs there would not be anyway that I would ever be able to teach them anything they are expected to learn. My meeting those needs it clears the childs mind to allow them to concentrate on what is being taught. In many cases the school is a safe haven for these students, and therefore it is very important for us as teachers to keep it a safe place for all students. We as teachers need to establish a relationship with our students in which they trust us, and therefore we are a person they can talk to. We also need to make our classrooms a safe place by making sure each student is given a chance to talk, and they are not bullied or treated badly by the other students. This is a very interesting topic to me because I not only am a teacher, but I was a Psychology Major. It is amazing how much education and psychology overlap each other.

Christy Hallum
Will Rogers Elementary
Hobbs,NM

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