February 13th 12:00-3:00 Secondary Team Plan (location TBA)
March 7th 8:30-11:00 Elementary Team Plan Day (location TBA)
April 24th 12:00-3:00 Secondary Team Plan (location TBA)
What we should teach and assess in U.S. schools is a contentious issue. So, when a majority of parents and K–12 educators agrees that one group of skills is "very important" to teach and assess, those are likely skills people have noticed that young people sorely need. Such a consensus seems clear for the collection of abilities highlighted in this issue—skills connected to understanding emotions, forming relationships, making good choices, and tackling tough work. In a recent Gallup poll, majorities of parents, teachers, and school administrators said it's "very important" to assess certain social and emotional skills in school.1
Social-emotional skills—also called "character strengths," "interpersonal skills," "noncognitive abilities," and (a misnomer) "soft skills"—have always been stressed by caring educators. Teaching for these capabilities—social-emotional learning—is key to ASCD's Whole Child approach, and groups like the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) have spent decades identifying central social-emotional skills and competencies. Empathy, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, "grit," self-regulation—the list of what SEL lessons and approaches teach kids is lengthy and compelling, and not just for kids.
The call to put social-emotional learning on a par with academics is growing louder—partly because of cultural signs showing that talents like resolving conflicts and collaborating with others elude many Americans. Violence and even killings in schools or by young people make regular headlines, and reports of what U.S. businesses say they will need in future employees list self-discipline and collaboration skills as top priorities.2
But the calls are also increasing because of the research base on the effectiveness of SEL programs. Studies show that well-designed SEL programs can increase students' academic achievement and improve their life outcomes. Higher odds of getting a high school diploma, a better shot at college, and even a lower likelihood of arrest—all are correlated with exposure to solid SEL instruction. Amanda Nickerson's research finds that approaches to curbing bullying that strengthen SEL competencies are more successful. Strategies to regulate emotions can help teachers, too.
So how to fulfill that promise? The authors featured in this issue lay out a range of ways to strengthen social-emotional skills and dispositions among students. In our lead article, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Marc A. Brackett discusses an approach for increasing students' emotional intelligence, the awareness that all emotions can be helpful if we tune into them and use them wisely.
Knowing one's own emotions, Brackett and others note, is a building block of empathy—the quality that parenting expert Michele Borba explores in depth. Borba explicates nine competencies of empathy, with real-life examples from schools of how to teach for each. As a bonus, this issue provides a short visual learning resource (a serious comic strip, so to speak) elementary teachers can share with their students to spark reflection on empathy.
This issue also delves into more hotly debated SEL-related concepts. In an exclusive interview, Angela Duckworth discusses what she sees as misconceptions around her research on "grit," highlights the importance of interpersonal character strengths, and explains why measuring social-emotional skills can be tricky.
Richard Weissbourd of Harvard, meanwhile, positions social-emotional learning as a key part of confronting the problem of sexual harassment and misogyny in schools.
Our authors agree that improving social-emotional skills isn't a matter of completing an isolated program or following a set of steps. It must be embedded in the day-to-day work of schools and include modeling from adults who've strengthened their own social-emotional capacities. As Carol Ann Tomlinson puts it, "SEL is not a program or a curriculum, but a way to be together".
Social and emotional learning (SEL) enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges. Like many similar frameworks, CASEL’s integrated framework promotes intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive competence. There are five core competencies that can be taught in many ways across many settings. Many educators and researchers are also exploring how best to assess these competencies.
Click on one of the words in blue above to learn more about SEL.
Social-Emotional Learning Starts with Adults by Meena Srinivasan
There are a few brilliant souls to whom I often turn for guidance. Some of these individuals are present-day mentors I can call on the phone or meet with over coffee. I also connect with inspiring thought leaders I've never met through their books and writing. One is the great, late Maya Angelou, who overcame grinding poverty and abuse in her youth to become one of the most celebrated writers in the United States. Her heartful wisdom and understanding of human relationships never cease to amaze me. I recently came across an article that shared four critical questions Angelou felt we unconsciously ask each other all the time (Schafler, 2017):
These questions speak to me from a personal perspective as a new parent and a partner, underlining how critical our relationships are for cultivating a deep sense of connection. As an educator, I also immediately see how foundational these questions are to creating a sense of safety and connection in the classroom. The degree to which our students feel truly seen influences their well-being and academic engagement.
To help our students answer these four questions, we must be fully present and available for them. As teachers, the greatest gift we can offer our students is our presence and our ability to see and accept them as they are. But how can we best provide our students with the gifts of our presence and vision? One of the most powerful ways teachers can cultivate important "habits of mind," such as awareness, attention, flexibility, and intentionality, is to develop a personal mindfulness practice (Roeser et al., 2012).
Social and emotional learning (SEL) skills aren't core content, but they're the core of all content. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), these skills include how to "understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."
Implementing SEL and teaching character aren't without challenges or debates. There's a lack of consensus about how we measure SEL skills (and whether we should or even can), how technology fits into SEL instruction, and whether you can truly "teach" character. A few things are clear, however: SEL is important, teachers value it, and digital technology is part of our lives.
Explore the topics below to learn more about character strengths like empathy, find actionable activities and edtech tools for the classroom, and discover ways to involve families in SEL learning.
Thank you to Getty Images, Jen Siska, and Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.
The fastest way to get your questions answered is to contact the right person!
McKenzie White (531) 299-9362 Instructional technology , ITL Program
Omaha Public Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, age, genetic information, citizenship status, or economic status in its programs, activities and employment and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups. The following individual has been designated to address inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: Superintendent of Schools, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).
Las Escuelas Públicas de Omaha no discriminan basados en la raza, color, origen nacional, religión, sexo, estado civil, orientación sexual, discapacidad , edad, información genética, estado de ciudadanía, o estado económico, en sus programas, actividades y empleo, y provee acceso equitativo a los “Boy Scouts” y a otros grupos juveniles designados. La siguiente persona ha sido designada para atender estas inquietudes referentes a las pólizas de no discriminación: El Superintendente de las Escuelas, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).