Monday, May 20, 2013

Social & Emotional Learning

There's more to education than learning facts or even academic skills.

You'd think we'd all agree on that, but "agreement" doesn't equal actually changing the curriculum or school day to make time for hard-to-measure aspects like emotional maturity, behavioral change, or wisdom.

John Bridgeland recently wrote an article for Huffington Post about emotional and social maturity.
The Missing Piece: How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools

OK, so the title does seem a bit too ambitious. LOL

But hear what Bridgeland is saying: Kids do much better in life when they learn vital emotional and social skills like sticking with hard tasks even when it's tough ("grit"), handle stress without breaking down, and treating classmates with compassion even when that isn't natural. In fact, taking time to discuss and practice such skills helps students overall, even though these skills are rarely referenced in curriculum standards.

The article discusses recent research evidence that suggests these social and emotional skills actually improve classroom/academic performance for many students.  The fact that researchers are obsessed with finding evidence that what all of us know is a good thing for children (strong emotional & social skills) attests to the "science-crazed" state of education practice today -- a perfect illustration of the current trend to choose only the "researched" innovation.

So - why value social and emotional health within the curriculum?

  • Good education demands recognizing the full humanity of learners. In other words, if we try to reduce children to data, numbers, and results (usually test results), we risk emphasizing only part of what is needed for a good education. Humans need social interaction, emotional health, creative thinking, and challenges to solve -- and none of those can really be "tested" in the artificial environment of the classroom.
  • It doesn't matter what we *say* is important. Educators (and policy makers) show their real values by what they choose to devote time to in the classroom.  People talk all the time about wanting kids to succeed "in real life," but many kids recognize that their classroom education is rarely relevant to the "real world" they already encounter.  This need for social & emotional well-being becomes acute during middle and high school, when academic pursuit takes a deep back seat to the drama of the hallways.
  • Information divorced from social/emotional/real world context loses a lot of its value to the life of a learner. But wise teachers are able to connect their learning experiences to more than just the intellectual: social and emotional skills are part of everyday life, so they deserve to be recognized as a necessary and "normal" part of the curriculum.
I'd like to see education policy makers break away from the tyranny of the quantitative research model and recognize the value of the qualitative and hard-to-quantify. 

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And a word to parents:  Emotional maturity includes "grit," the drive to stick with something even when it's hard. 

This is one area where parents trump teachers. Don't let your kid out of the hard moments in life. And don't give in to a kid's emotional manipulation on that score to preserve your own "peace of mind." 

Get in there and plow alongside your child until you comprehend for yourself whether your kid is in over his head (and needs an escape route) or whether they're just bucking against expending the effort to overcome an obstacle (and therefore need to stay with it, no matter how much they whine).

Don't be afraid of failure. Be afraid of removing your child's drive and motivation to overcome failure.



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