George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning: How You Can Implement it In Your School

April 24, 2007

Like everyone, I was shaken by the massacre last week at Virginia Tech. It is clear that the shooter had severe emotional and mental problems that could have been addressed much earlier.

This latest incident of mass violence and suicide will certainly focus attention once again on the causes of violence, and will lead to renewed conversations about gun control, our country's broken health care and mental-health systems, and the impact of media violence on the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of children. Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and education professor and director of the University of Virginia's Virginia Youth Violence Project, discussed these issues in a recent conversation with the Washington Post.

How many of us have had children in our classes who were withdrawn, quiet loners? What kinds of indications should teachers be taught to watch out for? How do we learn more about the feelings of the children we teach, and how do we equip them to deal with emotions such as anger, sadness, aggression, loneliness?

GLEF, a vocal proponent of social and emotional learning, has published hundreds of resources on emotional intelligence.

Even if your school has not instituted a formal program in support of social and emotional learning, you can initiate plenty of activities in your own classroom. To begin, recognize that an emotionally intelligent teacher is the first step to an emotionally intelligent class. Consider how your own communication with and treatment of students models healthy emotional intelligence.

Here are some student-centered activities and resources you can use in support of your classroom efforts:

? Institute morning meetings. Starting your day with a morning class meeting provides numerous opportunities to support social and emotional learning: It helps build a sense of community, creates a climate of trust, encourages respectful communication, and much, much more. You'll find information about morning meetings, as well as other strategies for fostering emotional intelligence, at the Web site The Responsive Classroom.

? Introduce journal writing. This familiar activity can be effective in developing self-awareness among students.

? Emphasize responsibility. Formalize tasks in your classroom, such as maintaining chalkboards or whiteboards, bringing papers to the school office, or handing out balls and other playground equipment at recess. Such duties encourage a sense of responsibility among students and provide everyone with the opportunity to contribute to daily management of the class.

? Encourage creativity. Joshua Freedman, director of programs for Six Seconds a nonprofit organization supporting emotional intelligence in families, schools, corporations, and communities, suggests that creativity is most necessary in times of emotional hardship, such as when we're frustrated or angry. By providing your students with ongoing opportunities to express their creativity, you'll also be helping them handle the inevitable curve balls life throws at them. You'll find a helpful article on ideas and activities for using creativity to foster emotional intelligence at KidSource OnLine.

? Use literature to support social and emotional learning. The Heartwood Institute, which has developed an ethics curriculum for elementary school students, has compiled a list of multicultural children's literature (for students in primary and intermediate grades) that explore ethical themes, such as courage, hope, respect, and justice.

What emotional-intelligence resources do you find valuable?

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  • Student Engagement
  • Bullying Prevention
  • Classroom Management
  • Mental Health

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