Strong parent-school partnerships are critical to students' social and emotional well-being.
Credit: Kristen Funkhouser
When Laurie Russell, a crisis counselor at Palm Springs Middle School in Hialeah, Florida, sat down to design a middle school course in social and emotional learning, she knew it wasn't enough to simply provide the students themselves with strategies for dealing with the difficult and complex issues they face every day.
"The kids also needed to be supported at home," says Russell, who, in her twenty-year career has worked with students and families facing everything from divorce to substance abuse to mental and physical health crises.
That's why she added an unusual requirement for students interested in the year-long course: parent participation. Before students are accepted into the popular class, their parents must attend three workshops (during which they receive strategies to help them cope with the various stressors in their lives) and to support their students' efforts to use specific stress-reduction and conflict-resolution strategies at home.
A Benjamin Franklin Middle School student and parent watch a student-produced television broadcast.
An Essential Collaboration
Russell's effort to involve parents is just one example of the many ways in which schools are recognizing the critical parental role in the social and emotional learning of children.
In Ridgewood, New Jersey, for example, Tony Bencivenga, principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School, provides parents with a wide variety of opportunities to participate in the school's efforts to support social and emotional learning. A Parent Center on campus reflects the importance placed on having parents as partners in doing what is best for each child, and they are welcome any time. Parents are also encouraged to meet with teachers throughout the year to discuss issues related to their child's academic and social-emotional development.
In addition to these ongoing parent involvement efforts, Bencivenga has convened a group of parent advisers in the area of social-emotional learning, with whom he meets throughout the year "to talk about the role of parents, the role of home, and the role of school in promotion of social-emotional learning."
These efforts and those like them at other K-12 schools are critical to fostering emotionally intelligent youth, says Maurice Elias, Rutgers University psychology professor and author of several books on emotional intelligence. He adds that schools should go one step further, in fact, and develop strong relationships with all members of their surrounding community. "We have to be willing to work together," he adds, "if we are going to address the challenges that kids face in a very sophisticated society."
Strategies for Encouraging Parent and Community Involvement
Begin the discussion. If your school does not have any programs around social and emotional learning, work with others in your school and larger community to create what Linda Lantieri, national director of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, calls a "web of support." Bring together leaders from throughout your community -- businesspeople and law enforcement, parents and educators -- to discuss ways in which your community can make the emotional health and wellness of children a priority.
Include parents and community members in program design and planning. A useful resource in this area is Building Community Consensus for Character Education. The booklet, which includes guidelines for developing broad-based community support for character education in schools, is available from the Character Education Partnership.
Organize guest speakers. Work with parent organizations and community groups to identify local experts who can speak to parents and teachers about strategies for nurturing emotionally intelligent children.
Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.