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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Advocating for Social and Emotional Learning at Your School

Maurice Elias

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

Have you seen any of the Indiana Jones movies? How about the one with Sean Connery and the pursuit of the Holy Grail? There is a scene toward the end of that movie that contains a great lesson for why social, emotional, and character development (SECD) is not more widespread, and how we can turn the tide -- or, as we shall see, cross the abyss.

Here's the scene:

Indy has thought and fought his way through numerous challenges and obstacles in search of the Grail and now finds himself at the opening of a cave that leads into an enormous, foreboding, and deep abyss. On the other side is a cave where the Grail is located, but there is no visible way to get there.

In some accounts of the movie, people say that Indy takes a leap of faith -- but he does not. He knows there must be a path, but he also knows that if he can't see it, his chance of success isn't so great. So he grabs some gravel and throws it out into the abyss. Sure enough, the gravel reveals an otherwise invisible path.

In truth, it still takes a leap of faith to traverse this semi-invisible bridge to the Holy Grail. (Indy does so, by the way, and gets to the other side.)

What's the takeaway lesson for those of us in schools?

We must be the throwers of the gravel. We must have the wisdom and patience needed to illuminate the path we want others to follow. Following a path toward SECD, service learning, or project learning takes more courage than those of us who are familiar with these areas may appreciate.

It's a lot to expect people to take a blind leap of faith. Even knowing that there is a path, a semiblind leap of faith is required because the entire path is not illuminated -- even after the gravel has been thrown.

Getting Colleagues On Board

So, how do we throw the gravel and get others to follow along? Here are ways that my colleagues and I use to illuminate the path I'd like to suggest:

Remember, we are in a climate where some see the challenge of integrating SECD into our schools as fruitful as the quest for the Holy Grail.

Whether one is a teacher, an administrator, or another school professional, or a parent who wants schools to educate the whole child, it takes courage and a leap of faith to go down this path. Please share with us the ways you encourage and implement SECD in your classrooms and schools.

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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Andrew Pass's picture

Personally, I think it's important to remember that SECD need not be separated from other areas of the curriculum. Indeed, many areas of the curriculum lend themselves to asking students empathize and sympathize with others about different topics. These experiences certainly promote SECD.

Cheryl Wentland's picture

I think it is important for students to learn emapthy, sympathy, and respect and as teachers we need to teach by example. We can incorporate this in many different ways and through many different areas of curriculm.

Jenni Bowring's picture

I've shared your blog post on Twitter, and I agreed wholeheartedly with it. At Free Spirit, our mission is to support the social-emotional and educational health of kids and teens. Our materials help teachers achieve that in the classroom. We must be the throwers of the gravel, indeed! Help ignite that passion in kids to reach out beyond themselves. Think globally. Sadly, that is easier to teach now as the world yearns to help Haiti's citizens. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Mandira's picture

I agree completely that social and emotional learning is as important as the main subjects being taught at school.But implimenting these ideas in a simpler and interesting manner to children may be a little difficult.I teach the 5 year olds. Hence it becomes very important for me to be a role model first and impliment theses values everyday through behaviour,demonstrations and activities.

K Brown's picture

If we are unable to create a culture of empathetic citizens within our school classrooms, we will be creating a future culture of self-indulgent, egomaniacal citizens and the way of our country will dissolve. While we must be the missionaries of deep thought, literacy and problem solving we must above all be building citizens capable of empathetic, other centered thought, who see and support the value of other's humanity and worth.

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