Social Emotional Learning Should Be Seamless

Social and emotional learning can boost academic performance and reduce instances of bullying and should be part of every lesson plan.

I recently read a blog in Edweek highlighting a report about how social and emotional learning can empower children and transform schools. The report, released by Civic Enterprises for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), overwhelmingly confirms that academic outcomes and performance are directly linked to social and emotional learning. The report further indicates that although teachers understand, value and endorse social and emotional learning, they also say there isn't enough "priority in schools" to teach and promote these skills.

The blog writers included this quote from the report: “Now we must act to ensure our students and teachers are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in school, work and life." This message seems a direct reference to the Common Core State Standards and an indirect additional claim that "time" to teach social and emotional skills continues to be eaten by other topics.

As an educator and literacy coach for 17 years, I need to rant.

Teachers know that it doesn’t make sense to continue to approach these critical life skills in isolation. These skills are not separate from the objectives of daily lessons and content-area curriculum. Learning is not packaged in neat, individualized compartments. Perhaps this message isn’t clear to some, but as teachers work in the classroom we learn—over and over—that kids need to feel safe in order to learn. 

This report clearly outlines benefits of social and emotional learning ranging from improving school climate and boosting academic performance to increasing student interest in learning and reducing instances of bullying. The report, however, also talks about programs and school-wide initiatives. No wonder teachers are concerned about time.

When we teachers plan a lesson, social and emotional learning should be at the top, mapped alongside the essential content-area skills. As we work toward getting our students college and career ready, we should want their learning to include skills that transfer to new classrooms, social settings and work environments.

When I was a classroom teacher, my students often read and created together, drafting, editing and revising with peers. When I plan lessons that include cooperative learning or collaboration, I identify the necessary social and emotional skills for collaboration. I ask myself some essential questions in planning:

  • Can the student say, “Thank you!” when someone gives her a compliment?
  • Does the student know how to take turns?
  • What listening skills are necessary for this activity to succeed?

These are not content-specific questions, but they are critical to the success of the lesson. These questions drive the planning for addressing the social and emotional aspects or “hidden” curriculum.  

Social and emotional learning should be embedded in everything we do as teachers, and teachers want best practices for teaching these skills. Teachers need support.

Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making should be present within every lesson, not treated as a “special” school-wide initiative or program added to what teachers are already using. Seamless integration is how we help children make meaningful connections and develop understanding together with other learners in their classroom community.

I love that the resources we create here at Teaching Tolerance provide teachers the tools to address the hidden curriculum without adding separate programs or cutting content. Teachers need support in doing what they know will help students.

Ok, rant over.

Wicht is a teaching and learning specialist for Teaching Tolerance.

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