Advocating for Social and Emotional Learning at Your SchoolJanuary 20, 2010 | Maurice Elias
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:
- Share videos of SECD programs in action. Actual examples are better than descriptions and testimonials. (See this list of Edutopia.org videos that feature students engaged in social and emotional learning.)
- Videos of live trainings and workshop presentations can be good introductions to various aspects of SECD. (Visit the Web site of Rutgers University's Developing Safe and Civil Schools program and click on "SECD Screening Room.")
- Show simple, but accurate materials. Many people want to wade into the water and not jump into the deep end. This laminated card is the best short introduction I have seen to various SECD areas, including examples of implementation in K-12 classrooms.
- Share research and practice briefs like these that can stimulate interest.
- Encourage others to read stories about schools of character and what they are doing that has earned them this distinction. (The Character Education Partnership is a great resource for this.)
- Watch and listen to brief interviews with those who have walked down the path as they talk about their challenges and how they overcame them at various points along the journey.
- Be a model. Be willing to co-lead with, support, and collaborate with others as they embark on the path toward implementing SECD in classrooms and schools.
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.