Elementary and middle school are important times in a young person’s life. Children go through many emotional, physical and educational changes. Learn how to communicate with peers and learn formative lessons that shape your critical thinking skills. What happens in these years often predicts later outcomes in school and in life.
But experts say the skills now taught in some schools at the time were just as essential as reading and math. SEL aims to encourage a social and emotional curriculum designed to support the well-being and academic performance of young people. This is a complex educational process that also requires proper training of teachers.
Bedford High School Counselor, former 5th Grade Inclusion Teacher at Boston Public Schools, and 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, Audrey Jackson, has joined GBH. all things considered Host Arun Rath explains exactly what social-emotional learning is and how it’s implemented in schools.
Arun Lass: I have given a broad and rapid definition of what social-emotional learning is. For those completely unfamiliar with this teaching, could you start by breaking it down?
Audrey Jackson: The first thing I would like to say is that this is a “completely new concept.” I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I would like to point out that social factors and our emotions have always been involved in the learning process. It aims at how we support you in developing these skills in a way that is integrated with your academic work.
Core social-emotional competencies are listed as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These are all abilities that really influence how children participate in learning communities, how they think about themselves as learners, and what they believe is possible in the future.
Russ: As you do that, I can’t help but think about what our children have been through throughout the pandemic, especially in the early part of it.
Jackson: yes. Indeed, educators around the world have sought to integrate social-emotional learning to build connections with students, even when they are learning virtually. This was what teachers naturally did, as connection is often the foundation that leads to children trusting their teachers and believing they can engage with them and learn the content.
But other more nuanced skills include taking turns when you’re in a game, what to do when things don’t go your way, and feeling your skills are different from others. There are other ways to navigate. These things have not been supervised or gently directed by educators in a very consistent manner for some time.
Teachers caution children who may need a little reminder that it’s okay to lose a game, or who may need to believe in themselves even if they didn’t understand something the first time. A little way to turn. Kids missed it. So they have different skills in terms of how they see themselves in school, how they fit in with others, and what they think their path could be. They come to us with their shortcomings.
Russ: Tell me more about how this kind of dynamics plays out in the teaching of social-emotional learning. Let’s say you have a child in your classroom who has a seizure. Does that change how you approach the situation?
Jackson: Every educator has a different toolbox in terms of what they bring to help their children. But social-emotional learning is about educators learning and trying to come up with a clear and consistent plan in which their well-being is taken into account. Because we know it affects student well-being and regulation. It’s not because you want it. Somewhere they lack the skills to deal with what they’re up against, they feel they’re overdoing it.
They may not know how to ask for help. Even if you ask for help, you may not believe you can do anything. Maybe it’s about something completely different that happened at home. We want to help teachers learn how to collaboratively coordinate rather than escalate situations. This is never intentional, but it can happen.
“Having tools to help them navigate when things don’t go their way, or when things feel tough, allows their brains to develop and consolidate their memories.”
Russ: I know it goes much deeper than, say, conflict resolution. Talk about how there are aspects of social-emotional learning that can help or remove obstacles to the educational process in the process of learning a particular topic.
Jackson: It’s important to keep in mind that a child’s brain develops from kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond. But our youngest learners often overlook skills they don’t yet possess.
When a child believes or worries about something that might happen or that they can’t do, it actually causes the brain to focus on the negative and trigger a stress response. Learn, form and work on new memories. Having the tools to navigate things when things don’t go as expected, or when something feels difficult, helps the brain develop and solidify its memories and pave the way for moving forward. Set it actually. they are not stressed.
For example, there is a social norm that says, “Some people are bad at math.” For children, mathematics is something they can learn, mathematics is not just rote memorization, it can be applied in many different ways to different things, and there are clear tasks that help them understand how they can work together. If not…it can help them become more open and eager to learn things. More active participation and continuous learning.
Russ: Now that we’ve started talking about these being formative years and consequences, let’s talk about where that path leads.
Jackson: Various studies have shown the positive impact of social-emotional learning. I recently read “The 1 to 11 Effect,” where for every $1 he invested in developing a powerful social-emotional program, he would get about $11 in results. It could be a reduction in the impact of children needing some kind of therapeutic or additional academic support. and in the longer term, fewer people needing more affordable housing.
Social-emotional learning is very important because it influences the story of what children think of themselves, who they are and who they could be. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one skill or just a classroom meeting. It’s how we think of ourselves within the context of our community. We don’t quite know where it is yet in our learning communities, our town communities, and this wider community, but the kids go there. Therefore, their beliefs and understanding of themselves and their ability to empathize with others and understand new and complex situations are very important as they continue to grow and take on new challenges.
Russ: We’ve been talking about social-emotional learning at the elementary and middle school level, but given all you’re saying and what we know about how long the brain is actually developing right now, , this sounds like a good thing…for high schoolers, and college students alike.
Jackson: I would even say for adults and parents! I am the parent of her two young girls and still have to control my emotions sometimes. Because a calm brain usually calms a brain in crisis. If we can help ourselves to be calm and in tune, we can help the people around us to be calm and in tune. And these skills are life skills!
They are not the soft skills that are being taught as many would think because they are not math or science. They are core skills essential to being human and how we interact. Yes, they are so essential when children are young, and even in middle and high school. We will continue to work as long as we live.