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Social and Emotional Learning: Taking a Stand for What You Believe In

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
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Have you read Spirit: Defining Our World? It's a magazine published by Special Olympics to promote their programs and share information and inspire those who are interested in the organization and its goals. There are remarkable stories of individuals who refuse to be defeated by their handicapping conditions. They strive be competent and successful, to push the limits of their ability and to be appreciated for their accomplishments.

In every issue, we meet individuals involved in Special Olympics and we understand how and why they have chosen to work in this field when other, more lucrative opportunities beckoned. And in each issue, we get a word or two from Tim Shriver, CASEL board chair, and son of the Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver, respectively.

In the fall 2008 issue (vol. 13, no. 2), Tim asks us all to take a stand for what we believe in. Tim does this a lot. This time, he asks us to be alert to offensive speech. He cites two individuals, one a volunteer and one a Special Olympics athlete. The athlete talks about how challenging it is to be considered an "outsider" every day and how much it hurts him to hear the word, "retard." And the volunteer talks about how he challenges those who use that word, regardless of how much or little his intervention is appreciated. Each of these individuals musters courage every day to take a stand for what they believe in.

As Tim says, through sport, and the dedication and discipline that it requires, individuals find that they can exceed what others expect from them -- and what they expect from themselves.

What about you?

Do you believe that schools should systematically foster social, emotional and character development (SECD) in climates that are safe, caring, respectful, supportive, and challenging? Are you willing to express that in your school? Are you willing to gather those who believe the same, perhaps informally, perhaps in a reading group, or in some other format, and begin to take concerted action? In 1999, Sizer and Sizer, wrote a moving book, The Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. The students are watching to see if the adults around them care enough to do the right thing on their behalf, regardless of the difficulty in doing so.

What do you stand for? The evidence is there, the practices are available, and the students are watching and waiting. Special Olympians, as well as Tim Shriver, who embodies that spirit, along with leadership to back to courage of his convictions, are all around us to provide inspiration.

It's time to advocate for SECD and social and emotional learning (SEL) in your school and community. You will find that many others will agree with you. They have just been waiting for some leadership.

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Maurice J. Elias

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

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Yvette Vignando's picture
Yvette Vignando
Parenting Publisher at

We live in Sydney, Australia and have 3 boys at school here. My work is all about taking a stand in this area. Earlier this year I had a 10 minute private meeting with our Australian Prime Minister about the need for SEL to be part of our new national curriculum and I continue to write to the relevant politicians trying to make a difference.

Earlier this month I uploaded a video as an open letter to the Australian Prime Minister on this issue and also to the Minister for Education. I would be very grateful if you would watch and or comment and or share this video.

Maurice Elias - I have been following your work since 2000 in this area and I am so grateful and respectful of your contribution, thank you.

Rick Ackerly's picture
Rick Ackerly
Author, speaker, consultant

Yes, schools must change. The results we want will only come from changing school culture. Programs tacked onto a culture which already ignores social and emotional needs will be wasted effort.

Telena Ellis's picture

I agree with you that change must happen and schools are a great place to start the change. I believe that by providing students with role models and leadership the entire culture of the school will change over time. Introducing students to articles such as the one directly from a Special Olympic athlete provides a powerful message. Unfortunately some students and adults for that matter have never had a positive role model to learn the basics of caring and understanding. I try to be that positive role model and I will always take a stand when I see others belittled or made fun of with words or gestures.

Your blog is very motivating and inspiring.

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