By: Dara Feldman
How do we best nurture young children to thrive in the world, especially at a time in history when they are experiencing so much trauma? Social and Emo-tional Learning (SEL)/ character development is key. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotion-al Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effec-tively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills nec-essary 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.”
When we look at the variety of risk factors that lead to an increased likelihood of some students not being able to take the full advantage of the educational opportunities afforded them, many point to the need for SEL. According to Hirsch (2007), “Just 14 % of vari-ation in individuals’ performance is accounted for by school quality. Most variation is explained by other factors, underlining the need to look at the range of children’s experi-ences, inside and outside school, when seeking to raise achievement.
- Less advantaged children are more likely to feel a lack of control over their learning, and to become reluc-tant recipients of the taught curriculum.
- Deprived children are more likely to feel anxious and lack confidence in school.
- Young people who become disaffected with school develop strong resentments about mistreatment
- Students growing up in poverty are less likely to get good educational qualifications.”
What can educators do in order to empower students to become resilient, confident and capable learners?
Start as early as possible. A positive early childhood education can help students develop a healthy attitude toward school and give them the foundation for lifelong learning.
Develop and nurture relationships with all students, especially students who are identified “at risk”, or I prefer to say, “under-supported or at promise”. Loving and supportive relationships are the foundation of where all learning starts. It is imperative that identified students have loving mentors they trust and who model respect, as well as create healthy boundaries while providing high expectations and a high level of support.
Proactively teach students Social and Emotional Skills. According to CASEL.org, “there are five interrelated sets of cogni-tive, affective, and behavioral competencies. The definitions of the five competency clusters for students are:
- Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on be-havior.
- Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations.
- Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and com-munity resources and supports.
- Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups
- Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behav-ior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.”
Teaching social and emotional competency does not need to be an add-on curriculum. It is ideal to be proactive and intentional when teaching, recognizing and reinforcing each skill. Using the language of virtues to acknowledge, guide and correct behavior can be a sim-ple and powerful way to do just that.
Instead of saying “good job” when a young child does something well, it is helpful to be specific and identify the evidence of what was successful and the virtue they demonstrated. For example, “I see your determination learning to tie your shoe without giving up.” Determination is the virtue and not giving up is the evidence. This helps the child know that they have determination in them and they can use their determination when things get hard to keep go-ing.
To guide a young child or to help them recognize a teachable mo-ment when they demonstrate a mistaken behavior, a virtues guid-ance or correction is helpful. For example, instead of staying, “How many times have I told you to pick up your jacket?”, it is helpful to say, “Please be orderly and hang up your jacket.”
Virtues reflection and educator cards are a great resource to help you learn the language of virtues and help teach young children about each character quality. You can do a pick online at www.giftsofcharacter.org or access the iphone and Android apps at www.virtuescards.org.
Finally, there are many excellent videos that teach young children the SEL competencies/character strengths. Two of my favorites both come from Sesame Street:
In addition to virtues cards, there are many excellent videos that teach young children the SEL competencies/character strengths. Two of my favorites both come from Sesame Street. The first is a video of Cookie Monster teaching about self-control. He gives specific strategies such as positive self-talk, standing up straight and taking deep breaths.
The second video is Mark Ruffalo teaching is furry friend, Murray, about Empathy. Mark defines empathy and gives examples.
Finally, did you know that preschool children are suspended 3 times more than kindergarten through twelfth grade students, combined? In Dr. Rosemarie Allen’s compelling Ted Talk, “School Suspensions are an Adult Behavior”, she re-minds us that when students don’t know how to read we teach them. When students don’t know how to ride a bike, we teach them. But when students don’t know how to behave, do we teach or do we punish? We punish. She encourages us to intentionally teach young children prosocial skills and give them many opportunities to practice those skills while positively reinforcing them every time they use those skills. Dr. Allen suggests that this would greatly reduce the chal-lenging behaviors and help to dismantle the preschool to prison pipeline. Her last line of the talk is powerful, “When we focus on our own behavior, give children the tools they need to regulate theirs, look for what is good, right and amazing in every single child we can stop suspensions and we can keep our babies in school!”
Thank you for your commitment to look for what is good, right and amazing in every single child and keep our Baltimore babies in school!
Beach, C. (2014). At-risk students: Transforming student behavior. Rowman & Littlefield Education, Lanham, MA.
CASEL, Social and emotional learning core competencies. Retrieved from http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/core-competencies/ on Oct 31, 2017
Jensen, E. (2009). Teaching with poverty in mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation. (n.d.). Experiences of poverty and educational Disadvantage. Retrieved from http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/2123.pdf
Kavelin-Popov, L. (2000). The virtues project educator’s guide: Simple ways to create a culture of character. CA: Jalmar Press.
U.K. Department of Education. (2014). Mental health and behavior in schools. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/326551/Mental_Health_and_Behaviour_-_Information_and_Tools_for_Schools_final_website__2__25-06-14.pdf