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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Smart Hearts: Social and Emotional Learning Overview

In school districts from New Haven to Anchorage, social and emotional skills are being taught and assessed just like skills in math and reading are. (See a Spanish-subtitled version.) Read a short introductory article or watch a brief introductory video.

Male Newscaster: The video was posted on MySpace by [inaudible]. This assault occurred in North Babylon, New York. The victim apparently just twelve years old. Her attackers are fourteen year old ninth graders…

Male caller: A shooting with a gun at the [inaudible] Academy.

Female 911 Operator: Okay, where's the student at?

Female Newscaster: He was picked on, bullied and that may have been part of what pushed him to the school shooting here.

Narrator: While schools across the country grapple with the behavior problems of their troubled students, thousands of individuals are stepping up to help meet those students' social and emotional needs.

Michael: And no matter what we teach your brains, love is more important than knowledge.

Narrator: One of them is Michael Pritchard, a comedian and former probation officer who tours the country listening to the hearts of young people.

Michael: How many of you know a boy or girl here at school who gets picked on and left out and never included and laughed at al the time? Raise your hands high, high. Look around the room please. Hands down.

Marilyn: At one point, Michael asks kids to come forward and share how they've been hurt, or maybe to apologize to others, and when he asks them to do that, I thought, "They're not gonna do this. I mean, in front of all these kids, they're not gonna come forward." I have to tell you, I was amazed at how free they were to come forward and really share their experience.

Boy: When I first moved here a year ago, and no one really wanted to play with me, and all the fifth graders called me names.

Michael: What was it doing to your heart?

Boy: It just made me feel really bad.

Michael: We get sick if we try to hold all that pain in. And then the unaddressed grief turns to anger, and the anger to rage, and it has two directions, out to the community, or inwards towards the self, and self destructiveness.

Girl: My main thing that's gotten me through all this is empathy. When I was being bullied, I tried to feel how they were feeling, and that's why there were bullying me.

Marilyn: Creating an environment in which kids feel comfortable, in which they are productive, in which they treated one another well, is not a one shot thing. So our responsibility as adults that work with kids is to reiterate that lesson. And in my experience, it takes three to five years to really change a school culture and it's a learning process.

Teacher: What people say to us and how other people treat us kinda shapes what we think about ourselves. And I wanna share with you a story. One day, Maria woke up--

Narrator: With curriculum material from programs like Resolving Conflict Creatively, students can learn social emotional skills in any classroom.

Teacher: And so her sister came into the room and said, "Are you gonna wear those old rags to school?"

Linda: We are talking about a whole new vision of education that says that educating the heart is as important as educating the mind. And so it's about equipping young people with the kinds of skills they need to both identify and manage their emotions, to communicate those emotions effectively and to resolve conflict non violently.

Teacher: So that was Maria's day. How do you think Maria's feeling now, if this is what's left of her heart?

Daniel: Emotional intelligence, which refers to how you handle your own feelings, how well you empathize and get along with other people is just a key human skill but it also turns out that kids who are better able to manage their emotions, for example, actually can pay attention better, can take in information better, can remember better. In other words, it helps you learn better.

Student: Let's say if me and Gabriela had a problem, then we're gonna go inside the peace corner and express our feelings with a peace helper, and I think everybody knows what a peace helper is.

Narrator: At PS twenty-four in Brooklyn, students learn to take an active role in solving classroom disputes.

Student: So you had a book first, and a girl snatched it from you?


How do you feel?

I feel mad.

Alexus: I like doing it, 'cause I like helping other kids and it's very fun for me because I get to have fun and then be serious at the same time.

Do you need my help?


What happened?

Alexus: When I do stuff like the mini lesson, I have to stay focused, and especially when I'm working like with first graders or kindergarten.

When the peace helpers were helping solve the conflict, what did you see the peace helpers do?

I'm still learning, because if I go into sixth grade next year, I need to learn how to control my anger, 'cause I have a serious temper problem.

Teacher: Running game or having game is pressuring somebody, 'cause you trying to slick 'em, right?

Narrator: In nineteen ninety, New Haven, Connecticut pioneered a comprehensive, district wide approach to teaching social emotional skills.

Teacher: Focus in on your dot, nothing else. Deep breaths.

Karol: In our middle schools and high schools, the social development curriculum is taught as a separate class. A student might go to English first period and social development second period and chemistry third period. So the student is taking the skills that he or she is learning in that second period social development class and using those skills wherever else in his or her life is needed.

Teacher: One possible solution is saying no or walking away. Is that real?

Karol: Just like you take the reading skills that you learn in fourth period class and apply them throughout your life, it doesn't matter if other people in your life have the same reading skills or not. You have the skills.

If you've been hurt by someone saying or doing something mean or thoughtless, move into the circle.

Narrator: The success of New Haven's efforts inspired other districts, like Anchorage, Alaska, to take on ambitious programs.


Fall away.

Narrator: This daylong series of games, trust exercises and truth telling sessions, called a Change of Heart, is designed to forge a caring community from the diverse group of twenty-four hundred students and staff at East Anchorage High School.

Yes, I trust you guys.

What's your name?

Narrator: It's just part of a concerted effort to address the social and emotional needs of every student in the district, an effort that began with schools in turmoil just a few years ago.

Alivia: You know, you hear those horror stories about like, you know, like thugs showing up at school, like you having to look behind your shoulder, and that's how it was. There was a lockdown at lunch.

Carol: Alaska, unfortunately, has the highest rate of domestic violence, sexual and child abuse, in the nation per capita. And so a lot of our kids, they're watching violence in their homes. Sometimes they're the ones being attacked and abused, and for them to be able to come into school, which is frankly, for many of them, their safe haven, and to automatically switch that off and say, "Oh yes, I'm gonna really focus on algebra," it isn't even realistic. And so we've got a lot of young people in very great distress.

Narrator: After nearly a decade of studying best practices from around the country, the district adopted comprehensive social and emotional standards, with concrete benchmarks for appropriate behavior at every grade level. They designed classes to teach specific skills and developed guidelines for assessment.

Vickie: I'm a curriculum coordinator, so I am seen in the same office as the language arts coordinator the math coordinator, the health coordinator, et cetera to show just visually, politically, everything else, that we are gonna value this like we value any of our other curricula. A lot of my job is to look at the already adopted curriculum and say, "Okay, here's a place where, if I was teaching this reading lesson, I could also hit this social emotional learning center at the same time."

Teacher: "Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." What do you think he's saying there?

Student: I think that he took the one that not everybody was doing, like maybe everybody was doing a different thing and he thought that it was wrong, so he did the other thing, and maybe he was right?

Teacher: Doesn't even have to be right or wrong. Just follow your heart, be true to yourself.

Student: So Mike has eight dollars. Is this Mike?

Narrator: In this fifth grade math glass, solving problems is a social activity.

Student: Mike started with eight. Kelly had twice as much as Mike, and Joe had half as much as Kelly, which is--

Chris: Every teacher out there has probably said at some point in time, "Turn to your neighbor and talk about this idea. Look at your teammates and talk about this idea."

Student: Why did you do those shapes there?

Student: 'Cause it looked cool.

Chris: And really watch if they are talking about the topic that you've asked them to talk about, if they're actually listening to each other, and using that language and those social skills. Then all of a sudden, you have an environment where thirty kids are all learning at the same time.

Teacher: Today Lucia intentionally bumps into Jackson in the lunch room and makes him spill his food.

Narrator: The aggressors, victims and bystanders, or AVB curriculum, has been adopted by all of the middle schools in the district.

Teacher: What are some of the cool headed thoughts he could have?

Student: He might think that she likes him and that's why she's being so mean to him.

Teacher: Exactly. I hate to say it, but sometimes at middle school, kids do some really weird things to the kids they like.

Teacher: Today you're going to be interviewing one person, and that one person is also going to be interviewing you.

Narrator: Freshman English teacher Trudy Keller incorporates social emotional learning standards in her daily lessons.

Trudy: "Scrutinize" is a word that'll be on your next quiz. I want you to really scrutinize them and think about your impressions beyond just what they say.

One of the students wrote about his partner that he interviewed because this student's parent was a drug addict, and actually caused a great deal of turmoil in the family, and was actually a student that he had sort of looked down on, I think, before. And then he wrote, "I have a great deal of respect for what this student has been through."

Student: Do you have a job or what's your home--?

Student: Well, I have a disabled brother and I usually take care of him and stuff.

Trudy: I just think that you need to be in touch with their feelings, their emotions. When I know what's going on, and I acknowledge that and we deal with it, then we can get on to the job of learning.

Teacher: Two, three.

All: [singing] The world is full of all kinds of people. Inside our blood flows the same.

Michael: We're all under the gun to improve our test results, the academics, but I'll tell you what, it's a whole lot more fun to start focusing on that connection with kids and helping people feel good about where they are. The other will follow. Our teachers, I think, are much happier. They like their kids.

Pat: Good job, kiddo, excellent. Practice being cool headed this weekend.

Corey: Since my freshman year, the amount of suspensions that have happened at East has gone down dramatically. The amount of fights has gone down dramatically. East as a whole, it's so much better than before.

The goal is to hit the ball in the air as many times--

Vickie: The advantage of spending time doing this is the payoff in academics. There's research out now that shows that kids involved in intentional social emotional learning programs like we're trying to do right here scored on average ten percent higher on their standardized tests. So what are we giving up? We're giving up, you know, higher referrals. We're giving up violence in our schools. What are we getting? Kids who come to school because they wanna come to school, and kids who know how to act when they get into the schools, and hopefully, kids who will go into their futures with a better chance at success.

Michael: How should we treat each other?

Boy: Very well, because if we treat each other really bad, we won't like get along or be friends, or like be part of one big family.

Michael: You know what, you go home and you tell your mom-- look at me. You have [speaking Spanish.]

Michael: I love you. All right, [speaking Spanish].

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to Edutopia.org

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland


  • Brian Cardello
  • Daniel Gold
  • Dominic Orlando
  • Rob Weller


  • Kris Welch

"Change of Heart" Song by

  • Janie Lidey

Editor's Note: Linda Lantieri, featured in this video as the co-founder of Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP), is now director of the Inner Resilience Program and a program consultant with CASEL. (Read an Edutopia.org interview with Lantieri about defusing stress in children.)

Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Binay Kumar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a 30 years old Indian doctor and just was wondering what if I become a kid again and go through this education, it really will be fantastic. I then thought, as long as I have a spirit to learn, I am a kid and I don't need to throw away my age. I can be a kid with this age.

I really loved that would be looking forward to see the result of such a teaching on kids. I would also be interested if there is such a training for adults.
many thanks

cindy coleman, principal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great video and I encourage all administrators to use this with their staff. In return have the staff to use strategies to start the day off. Hopefully more learning will take place throughout the day and discipline will go down.
I am also starting to involve my parents.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a wonderful video! I wish the district I work in would adopt this attitude. We have so much conflict and violence. Emotional Health is so important, without it learning is basic. Students are leaving High School with a distaste for learning instead of a love for learning. The NO Child Left Behind is a wonderful program, but has most of us teaching for the test. The love of learning is gone and there is an increase in school violence and unrest. We have to start reevaluating the way we teach our children. It should be quality and not quantity. If we have quality the love for learning will come.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really thought this video was very informative. It gave insights on how to have students be a better person. I wish my school can incorporate the Change of Heart Program, so that students do not bully others or hurt each other anymore.

Hoang Khanh Nguyen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

that impress me much! This effective methods of teaching is touch my heart. I'm future teacher and I will integrate SEL as much as I can.

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