Parents certainly and almost everyone else can play a role in bringing Social and Emotional Learning into all schools – and therefore over time bring the benefits and awareness into adult daily life. You can:
If ever a good cause deserved massive public support, Social and Emotional Learning in all schools curriculum would be a candidate. Its dual upsides – the wonderful immediate one for schools and kids and the spin-off positive societal upgrade – are unmatchable, with virtually no known downside.
Ideally, you will find an easy way to help move this lovely transformation along from pre-SEL (and low EQ) to SEL splendor everywhere (and high EQ).
By Angela Benedetto, Ph.D.
Hello Parent: Do you know if your school district is offering Social and Emotional Learning Programs to students and staff?
If you have children in school, you’re going to want to read this, because taking action can be extremely empowering.
Helping your school or school district incorporate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into the curriculum and school culture may be providing your child – and all other children – one of the most important skills sets they may learn during the span of their lifetime.
SEL is about helping students become more responsive to their life experiences, more self- aware, and better able to meet life’s challenges when they come up. This means they can make better choices for their lives, manage their feelings, communicate and relate better, and handle stress in positive ways.
Research also shows that when students are more in touch with their feelings and needs and learn how to communicate these needs in a positive way, they actually perform better on tests and go on to leave more fulfilling and successful lives.
Any parent would want this for their child. By helping making it happen for all children at your child’s school, you also create a culture of kids you’d want your own child to experience rather than a school rattled by poor learning and behavioral challenges that might include violence and drug usage.
If you google “social and emotional learning,” you will find more than 52 million links that are some way associated with SEL. Estimates are that at minimum 95% of the public does not know what the term “social and emotional learning” means.
Despite this, the number of links clearly indicates a growing body of information among education professionals and businesses about – and understanding of – the role that SEL can play in schools.
Many administrators and educators already have a deep understanding that school climate plays a vital role in the quality of learning that is achievable. Online you can read in depth about concrete solutions for implementing district-wide initiatives supporting Social and Emotional Learning, along with the body of research findings about their effectiveness.
1) Most parents are aware of the classroom learning and any special school programs in which their children participate. Social Emotional Learning instructions rarely are called such and often go by a variety of other names.
If your children never mention any learning that sounds as if it could be along the lines of emotional management and awareness training or relationship and empathetic communication skills, then it’s likely such programs do not exist in the school and you would be wise to go advocate for them.
What’s more, if you are not happy, nor is your child, with the overall experience and culture of the school, with your child not coming home positive and strong in herself or himself and eager to learn, then it is likely that the school either lacks an SEL environment or has a very weak one, in which case you definitely would be well-served to step in as an advocate for SEL.
2) On the other hand, since many schools have sporadic trainings such as inserted anti-bullying programs, it’s also wise to find out exactly what these programs are and what they do.
Ultimately, the highest goal is to advocate for SEL training that’s fully implemented in-curriculum and the school culture, inside all classes and in activities outside the school room. This has several components and is most effective when they include specialized training of teachers and staff, as well as daily and persistent immersion of the students in a schoolwide SEL culture that allows them to practice the skills they are learning.
3) Inform yourself by checking your school district’s website to see if they offer district-wide SEL, and exactly what type of programs they are and how fully SEL practice is integrated throughout school activities.
Programs may be listed under the subtitles such as district wide initiatives or safe schools initiatives. Some may list mindfulness training or character building training.
If a program has a name, you can always check its features with a search online.
4) In scoping the SEL landscape in your school or district, keep in mind that just because a district lists programs, it doesn’t guarantee those programs are deployed in all district schools, or employed in an immersive manner. Many central districts approve specific programs but leave it to the discretion – and budget – of school principals to implement or ignore.
If you have any doubts, ask your child’s teacher and or guidance counselors if they are teaching and using SEL skills in their classrooms, or if there are specialty classes taught by consultant. Ask also if there are any district-wide training programs available.
If there are, get the name of the programs and familiarize yourself with them online. Ask teachers if there is any literature or ways you can learn more about a specific program the school deploys. Ask the guidance counselors for any school reports on the effectiveness of the deployed program(s).
Step 2 – Advocating
1) Most likely you will find that your school or district has no truly operable SEL instruction and practice for the entire student body. You can then choose to become an advocate for comprehensive SEL.
Possible next action for you: Check the district and school websites to see what parent-teacher associations (PTAs) or other parent groups are available, and then attend meetings. Better yet, join any association available.
There’s more power in numbers, and it will feel good meeting other parents and any school officials who are interested in student emotional and social well-being or may become so if you come prepared to share what you know. PTAs tend to have real influence once the parents unite around an issue.
Your goal would be to be the advocate for SEL embedded through the school curriculum and culture A great way to start is to ask everyone to watch any number of videos they want to on this site or even more at this YouTube page.
2) Talk about SEL with other parents when you’re at your children’s events. Strengthening social and emotional skills is an important part of gaining emotional intelligence and can just as easily show up at a school basketball game, cheerleading competition, or robotics club where you can reference it.
Make it your goal wherever you meet parents to recruit allies. Invite people to your home for a group meeting about SEL or create lunch or coffee meetings that allow for discussion and building allied actions. Start by watching some videos together.
3) To prepare yourself even better for discussing SEL at these meetings or with teachers and school officials, you might want to become more knowledgeable on a general level. Read the related sections of this website.
Also, if you google “social and emotional learning” you will find tons of materials that have escaped the general public.
You might also check the local paper, school newsletters, and do a web search for local events focusing on education issues that you can attend and either learn more about SEL (at some) or share what you have already learned. Colleges often have free lectures available to the public and post new information on their websites.
4) Meet with either one teacher or a few. Most teachers may be aware of SEL and their major resistance is likely to be their already overloaded work lives in a time of educational turmoil.
The core case to present to teachers is the potential for much better behaved and faster learning students, with discipline problems minimized, and a much healthier school culture that ultimately diminishes their workload.
Present evidence to them from other teachers who work in SEL schools (gathered from this site or others) about how teachers attitudes and moods elevated along with those of the SEL-trained students in those schools, and academics improved, often dramatically.
You can read more about what teachers need on the For Teachers tab on this same web page..
5) Check you school’s website for their board of education schedule, and attend a meeting, ideally with as many allies as possible. Most districts have a time slotted for community members to make comments or ask questions. Be sure to sign in so your name is on the evening’s agenda.
6) Ideally in groups, and alone if necessary, seek out principals, board members and district officials and ask them to create a plan for rapid implementation of SEL programs fully into the curriculum.
By focusing on an action step they can take rather than a critique that makes them wrong, you are more likely to encounter open-mindedness than defensive positions. Most school officials know about SEL, many not all teachers do, and often many board members do not know about the array of programs and practices available or their effectiveness.
So be prepared with a list of videos the “not knowers” can watch or website they can visit. (See our Guide for Administrators on this same web page for thoughts to share with yours.)
7) You will definitely encounter resistance and “reasons” why SEL can’t be fully implemented in your school.
Basic “reasons” are: We really don’t know much about these programs and they are not all proven. We don’t have the money. We’re too busy and beside it means retraining the teachers. There are so many out there and we don’t have the staff to vet them.
Also, we’d love to do it but the board or legislature won’t support it. We don’t have the resources to implement it properly even if we had the money for the books, videos, games, etc. And it’s a big deal because we need different programs for different grades.
Also, we can’t so disrupt the kids when they are already overloaded with studying and learning to tests so we can meet our federal and state goals. Etc.
To which the simple answer is: “That is not acceptable. SEL saves money in the long run, particularly on remedial efforts, and it is your administrator (or board member) job to plan creatively how this might happen and we will then join you in going to our legislators for the funding.
“Together, let’s plan how to make this happen. Please call a schoolwide meeting with staff and parents as a first step in planning to implement them. (Or please call a special board meeting to hear from proponents of these programs.)”
8) Be persistent. Don’t take no for an answer. Set up tag teams among your allies among the parents. Take separate smaller meetings with administrators and district board members, and make an effort to enlist teachers in the cause.
9) Announce any coordinated efforts to local media outlets so they begin to inform the community about the efforts, requiring the media therefore to look deeper into the effectiveness of SEL in other communities.
Most local media outlets are clueless about them, as are even most major media outlets.
10) If so inclined, keep a diary of your efforts and responses you receive. It could provide useful in a long battle and also with the media.
11) Click here or below to Say Yes To SEL on this website, which is a way to show your support to others and endorse The Big EQ Campaign, and please encourage numerous others to do so. And VERY important, share your experiences on our Your Story section, where you can also learn from others.
12) Finally, be a bit of a squeaky wheel as time permits. The human tendency is to resist change. So keep knocking gently and leave reminder messages when you have a moment to spare.
Keep in mind that most of the people with whom you will be dealing have not gone through SEL instruction so don’t have the capacity to adopt easily and positively to even helpful change. So stay upbeat and persistent.
By Angela Benedetto, Ph.D.
Great teachers practice and model their natural social and emotional skills without giving it much attention. It’s a part of who they are, and why they teach in the first place.
No one better understands how challenging it is to teach when children are bringing their traumatic experiences, great or small, into the classroom.
Not surprisingly, therefore, a 2015 study by the Education Week Research Center found that an average of 83% of teachers said it was “very important” to provide SEL skills to students and nearly 90% of teachers said SEL skills were “very important” for teachers to possess.
Even so, personal training in SEL in order to resonate with students who are being so trained, represents a new skill set for the vast majority of faculty and virtually all students.
Because care and respect must be taken when creating change this big, it is ideal if parents and teachers ally in advocating for the changes – and then work together during the implementation and early training periods.
Focusing on the benefits is essential. Being part of a movement that supports all faculty and administrators being trained in social and emotional skills can change the school culture, climate and work experience in profound and positive ways.
Parent/Teacher alliances can make the case to administrators and legislators that research indicates SEL improves academic skills as a direct result of students being exposed to the “soft” non-cognitive skills that have to do with feelings, needs and the experiences in their everyday lives..
Teachers and parents can also argue that creating positive learning environments is an important factor in improving learning across the board.
Therefore, SEL progams ideally should not be used only haphazardly or in emergencies such as an outbreak of violence, bullying or drug abuse. Instead, they should be fully integrated into curriculum and school culture, inside and outside the classroom, including into language arts, history, science and all other content areas.
Students want an atmosphere where it is fun to learn, teachers want to teach, and administrators want to lead effectively. The best case for SEL: Everyone wins when all parties are immersed in developing and using these skills.
For teachers who don’t have any SEL programs and prcatices in place, and for parents who want to encourage teachers to support SEL adaption, here are some guidelines for moving SEL forward.
And below these are specific teacher resources for learning more about SEL that parents can also share with teachers.
To learn more about SEL and how it can help you in your teaching career check out:
gtlcenter.org (Center on Great Teachers and Leaders)
Check out the related tags on the Edutopia site for articles on teacher development school climate, teacher leadership, teacher collaboration, and teaching strategies. Edutopia also has videos, teacher resource material and a blog to support teachers.
Books Supporting Teachers
The Way of Mindful Education
The Compassionate Classroom
Full Catastrophe Living
Educating Minds and Hearts
Promoting Social and Emotional Learning; Guidelines for Educators
Emotional Intelligence, Why it Can Matter More than IQ
Reengaging Disconnected Youth: Transformative Learning Through Restorative and Social Justice Education
Ibooks: The Stress Reduction handbook for Teachers
Here’s a list of research-based teacher training programs supporting SEL
Greater Good Science Center’s Summer Institute for Educators
Garrison Institute’s CARE for Teachers program
Passageworks’ SMART-in-Education program
SEL Masters Program at the University of British Columbia
Margaret Cullen’s Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance (Smart)
FuelEd teacher training program
Passageworks Engaged Teaching Approach
Omega Institute Mindfulness & Educational Conference
By Angela Benedetto, Ph.D.
To date, there are more than 52 million Google links that are in some way associated with social and emotional learning (SEL) programs.
Although the general public may not be familiar with SEL, the enormous number of sites available clearly indicates a profound interest in sharing or understanding the role that SEL can play among professional educators, policy makers and business.
No one knows how many school administrators or school board members are among those who have researched SEL. But no one has a greater opportunity to affect change, if not responsibility, by informing themselves deeply and widely than these leaders – who better than anyone are expected to understand the vital role that school climate plays in the quality of learning that can be achieved by students.
Setting standards doesn’t necessarily lead to uniform and successful adoption of the programs – that task falls to school administrators and boards – which need urging and support in many ways in stepping up to meet the standards.
Given the deluge of decisions administrators need to make, and the other kinds of learning programs they need to evaluate, there is a tendency to implement SEL-oriented programs for specific needs, such as bullying, and claim the school is an SEL provider.
The far less deployed counter tendency – and the one that has the most beneficial effects – is installing SEL solidly in a school’s curriculum, with specific periods devoted to teaching SEL and its practices, this combined with weaving SEL thinking and practice into each academic classroom learning no matter the subject and into all out of class activities as well.
The evidence overwhelming supports the latter approach if SEL is to be effectively sustained long-term and the benefits optimized.
For administrators, sifting through the full curriculum SEL programs that have been evaluated through clinical trials – much less the hundreds that have not – and choosing and then implementing the program that best suits the needs of their school, can feel like a daunting task.
Several organizations (see below) assist administrators who wish to become more adept at understanding, modeling, choosing and implementing SEL that support students and staff in creating a positive learning environment.
Administrators need to evaluate the one or more SEL programs on the market that are the best fit for their schools in terms of the methodology being delivered to students and the supporting materials (books, videos, online programs, games, etc.).
The best know evaluation source is The Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a non-profit based in Chicago that has made a major contribution to the SEL field by rating programs that help students deal with emotional challenges, improve communication skills, strengthen relationships, and improve behavior and achievement.
CASEL’s research library and links also provide the evidence administrators need to convince themselves and others that SEL improves academic skills and performance, as well as school environments and student behavior.
Put another way: as students exposed to continued practice in SEL develop the “soft” non-cognitive skills related to their feelings, needs and ability to handle the experiences and stresses in their everyday lives, they get better grades.
The other key challenge for administrators, implementing chosen programs, includes getting buy-in from the various stakeholders (teachers, staff, students, parents).
This is a major issue given the fact that most programs are sold by small companies and institutions which offer weak or no implementation services to train staff or to prepare students and parents for their implementation.
Jeffrey Kress and Maurice Elias, authors of Rutger’s University Handbook of Child Psychology, describe the complexities of implementing SEL in schools as follows:
“For schools to successfully bring in comprehensive approaches to SEL in enduring and effective ways, they will need consultants who can negotiate a complex, inter- active, ecological-developmental process.”
Elias is director of Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab and co-director of the Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools (SELinSchools.org), which trains administrators and teachers in SEL practices and implementation.
Another potential resource for finding experienced SEL implementers is the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools co-directed by Dr. Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor. The Center has recruited volunteer implementers from around the country. It also publishes valuable guides, including The Implementation Guide to Student Learning Support (Corwin Press).
Here is some additional guidance for administrators in dealing with the challenges of adopting SEL into curriculum.
Until learning and practicing SEL skills is mandated in teacher education programs, many teachers are on their own to seek out this information. Let the teachers help choose training programs for themselves and have a voice in the selection of the program(s) that will go into the curriculum.
As for students, they are more enthusiastic when they are included in the educational process in as many levels as possible, including planning. This teaches cooperative skills and other qualities of SEL that lead to positive interdependence, personal accountability, and self- evaluation.
Apart from keeping parents informed, at the point at which SEL is launched in your schools, it is helpful to share with parents links to and information about home-based parenting SEL programs available to the public, free and otherwise, so they can maintain the SEL climate and culture at home. Parents should also be encouraged to participate in in-school programs as applicable. (See our partial list.)
Thirty years of research into the value of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) in reducing stress, chronic illness and pain management, as well as in developing skills in self-regulation and self-awareness, have led a number of schools across the country to include meditation/mindfulness practice in their offerings to students.
This has been backed by solid research from institutions such as the MBSR at the University of Massachusetts Medical school, by pioneers in the field such as Jon Kabbatt Zinn (MBSR Clinic) and Linda Lantieri (Inner Resilience), and by reporting by CASEL and other groups.
The results have led to an exploration of MBSR across disciplines, including behavioral and cognitive psychology and neuroscience.
However, the approaches and intentions differ. SEL is an instructional program, a policy and a school-wide everyday practice focusing on attitude and behavioral changes and the skills training in dealing with self and others needed to accomplish both.
Mindfulness is a practice drawing from one’s inner resources and the “premise that each person has the innate capacity for relationship-building qualities such as empathy and kindness,” as founder of the Inner Resilience Program (and one of the original co-founders of CASEL) Linda Lantieri explains.
Practicing mindfulness, she notes, helps students (and staff) “become aware of and then embody the connection between their emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Students are better able to regulate their emotions, which then impacts things such as their behavior, stress levels, relationships, and ability to focus.”
In short, mindfulness practices connect students’ inner and outer experiences and help them see the congruence between the two. Mindfulness gives students the opportunity to slow down and become more self-aware and less reactive; also to become more responsive, particularly when stress levels are high.
Accordingly, they both support SEL skills training, which is why many of the packaged SEL programs include mindfulness practices.
For their parts, educators who practice mindfulness meditation can expect to become better equipped to deal with disruptive behavior and more connected to students’ feelings and needs as well as their own.
At the risk of preaching to the converted, the heart of highly effective strategic leadership is relationships: Relationship with oneself, relationship with associates, cohorts and partners on all levels of an organization, including with internal and external stakeholders; relationship with the community, as well as relationship with the world and the greater good.
At the heart of relationship is effective communication in empathetic, non-violent ways. In addition, effective leaders are effective followers and effective followers are effective leaders.
In instituting SEL practices, it’s useful to remember that a primary responsibility of institutional leadership is to create a safe work environment where people are respected, honored and valued, not viewed as commodities or pawns on a chessboard to be moved at will.
Social and emotional authenticity moves us beyond the old power-over paradigm to where heart and mind function as a unified whole.
Effective communication and listening, with an emphasis on listening, combined with a practice of mindfulness, self-reflection and SEL skills, requires a commitment to personal growth for the benefit of the leader and the organization in which they are serving.
Servant Leaders recognize that their unique role is to be in service to the organization and its members.
This also requires a level of humility, and foresight, which comes with SEL training. Servant Leaders see “followers” as individuals equal in worth or value who play a different, not lesser, role than theirs.
Leaders who make it a practice to express gratitude towards individuals with whom they partner, will find that there is less fear of unknown outcomes and resistance to change.
Leaders and followers who practice humility offer the organization the opportunity to grow as they take full responsibility for their projects, assignments, creative endeavors as well the respective roles they play within the organization.
Relative to SEL, your school’s teachers will have their own motivation to implement the program. Individual differences in creativity or drive will impact the degree to which the program is successfully installed.
Each individual involved will be going through her/his own ecology of change as SEL rolls out and as he or she gains skills and higher awareness. Accordingly, it is important for school leaders to seek buy-in to an overall rollout plan that states the needs, intention and goals, and to evaluate progress regularly.
The Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley suggests a three-pronged approach to integrating SEL:
1) Pre-service teachers need SEL content: what it is, the science behind it, and how to use it to structure lessons, effectively implement SEL programs and create positive learning environments. Therefore, encourage colleges that maintain education programs to teach SEL to their education-major students, and hire new teachers who have experienced SEL training.
2) If you have student teachers at your school, mentor them in SEL while there.
3) Continue mentoring new teachers for at least the first two years of in-service teaching.
Research-based Training Programs for Administrators and Educators
Here’s a sample list of research-based training programs for Administrators and Educators interested in becoming well versed in SEL.
America Institute for Research (AIR) Conducts “research and evaluation activities and provides technical assistance, consultation, and communication activities regarding the mental health of children and youth, and the social and emotional conditions for learning. AIR staff work closely with district and school staff to create the conditions—vision, leadership, engagement, skills, measurement, and coaching and support—required to promote the skills students need to master academic content and enhance their well-being….SEL Solutions supports district and school staff to embed and integrate SEL with work currently underway within the district and school, creating a coordinated and purposeful SEL and school climate effort.
AIR partners include National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center).
More Specific Trainings:
For more information on effective practices in implementing social and emotional learning visit:
http://www.gtlcenter.org – The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders has a fabulous model for an SEL school.
http://www.edutopia.org – Which is the product of the George Lucas Education Foundation and an overall superb resource for elevating school performance, including notably with SEL programs.
How to Implement Social and Emotional Learning at Your School By Maurice J. Elias. March 24, 2016, George Lucas Educational Foundation (Edutopia.org)
How SEL and Mindfulness Can Work Together by Linda Lantieri, Vicki Zakrzewski | April 7, 2015. The Greater Good Science Center University of California, Berkley.
Intentional Practices to Support Social & Emotional Learning by Dale Blyth, Brandi Olson & Kate Walker. February, 2015. University of Minnesota Extension Youth Development Brief.
Rethinking How Students Succeed by Lija Farnham, Gihani Fernando, Mike Perigo, & Colleen Brosman, with Paul Tough. Feb. 17, 2015, Stanford Social Innovation Review.
School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Programs by Jeffrey S Kress and Maurice J Elias, 2015. Handbook for Child Psychology Chapter 15, p 592-597.
Teaching the Whole Child: Instructional Practices That Support Social-Emotional Learning in Three Teacher Evaluation Frameworks by Nicholas Yoder, Ph.D. January, 2014, Center on Great Teachers & Leaders at American Institutes for Research, (Research to Practice Brief).
Why Business Would Benefit from Partnering With Us In Support of SEL in All Schools*
Emotional intelligence isn’t a luxury you can dispense with in tough times. It’s a basic tool that, deployed with finesse, is the key to professional success.”- Harvard Business Review, 2003
Ready to Work High School and College Graduates
Cost Savings and Higher Productivity: Actual business effects from academic studies of employees and managers trained in emotional intelligence:
To get these results, researchers and advanced-thinking employers advocate for SEL to be fully integrated into the education system, K-12. The return on this investment is a larger competent talent pool and a more resilient society as a whole.
Simply put, investing in SEL is good business! Why not train our children in ways of thinking and skills that will make them excellent leadership talent, entrepreneurs, managers and employees and positive forces in their communities?
Read below for more reasons – and evidence – to join us.
*From Emotional Intelligence Consortium website at www.eiconsortium.org
Contact us for more information about any of the following:
The business community has been ahead of the curve in recognizing the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in the workplace and in prioritizing it in its hiring practices – a growing trend now on the verge of reaching critical mass.
As part of the business-critical effort to invest in their employees, many organizations have also introduced adult SEL programs into their companies in order to promote productive and satisfying – even happy – workplaces, resulting in higher performance and lower turnover rates.
Even so, there are several good reasons for every business – local, regional or national – to partner with The Big EQ’s EQuip Our Kids! campaign in generating parent, public and legislative support for fully integrating Social and Emotional Learning programs in every school – and in society as a whole.
The two most obvious returns on this investment are a superior workforce going forward – a generation of high-performing, persevering, focused, loving and creative young people who present as near-ideal employees – and more immediately, “social branding” goodwill and the sales and connections that flow from it.
Consider the former:
Similarly, an analysis of 213 school-based SEL programs involving 270,034 students, from kindergarten through high school, showed significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance as reflected in an 11 percentile point gain in standardized test scores.
Kindergardeners with higher social competence scores were measurably more likely to attain a college degree, more likely to earn a high school diploma, and more likely to have a full-time job at age 25 than non-participants.
(Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011), Child Development, 82: 405–432.)
stressors in a mindful way. When these skills are leveraged in the workplace, it often leads to more positive, productive environment. Studies have shown that most employees regard a wholesome workplace atmosphere as at least as important as pay rates, and in many cases more so.
As for greater sales from goodwill in an era of social branding, your goodwill ROI has the potential to accelerate when you simply say to your clients and the public “To give all children a chance to be their best self, we support Social and Emotional Learning in all schools!”
As public awareness grows of the benefits in school performance and in the beautiful way the students come to relate to themselves, to the people around them, and then contribute to the community at large, likely so will appreciation for your role making this happen. We think of it as social branding around an issue up there with God, mother and apple pie.
Finally, as a bonus, consider altruism and personal satisfaction as another reward. What could be more helpful to children and heart-warming and satisfying to you than to witness the remarkable positive changes in the lives of the students – and in nature of your local community – resulting from an SEL elevation of school culture and student capacities which you helped bring about?
Social and Emotional Learning helps children be their best selves – now and in the future!
If you are a middle or high school student, or even a fifth or sixth grader, here are some things you can do to make your own school life a lot more pleasant and get more out of it. At the same time you will be making the school itself and the lives of other students better.
REMEMBER THIS: STUDENT POWER IS POWERFUL!
And if you want more specific guidance, just contact us.
Even if you are not a parent or involved with schools in any way, you can follow the guidance in the Ways to Help box on this page. That would include calling or emailing school officials; sharing with most of the folks you know, getting your employer involved, writing to a local newspaper, talking to legislators and public officials or donating to our awaken-the-public media efforts.
You can also Say Yes to SEL by adding your name to our SEL Endorser’s list.
Other tips can be found in the Parents Guide.
If you truly want to step up, The Big EQ Campaign is developing an Ambassador training program to equip those volunteers who have the bandwidth and inspiration to do one or more of the following:
Training will be provided as needed.
If you are interested in volunteering in this capacity or for any other potential role, please contact us.
Why so? Because their constituents – presumably like you if you are here to learn – only rarely know that SEL programs and practices exist. Mainstream media doesn’t help as it barely covers education matters intelligently, much less follows the progress and successes of SEL.
Accordingly, almost no one is asking their representatives to support a cause they don’t exists.
Only 15 state legislatures have adopted SEL standards. Even “progressive” California is only now going through the process of defining standards, with none yet proposed to the legislature by the state Education Department.
Notably, setting standards doesn’t equal funding implementation; it’s only a step in the process.
The Big EQ Campaign has taken on the task of educating the public. Once you as a member of the public get informed, then it is up to you to educate school board members and relevant funding lawmakers.
CRUCIAL: THIS IS BI-PARTISAN
No matter how you vote, every parent wants to elevate their child’s chance to become her or his best self – their happiest, most productive, most creative and responsible self.
Parents also want their school – public or private – to provide a loving, safe climate that embraces the absolute best parent-assist programs for developing the healthy attitudes, learning engagement, skills and behaviors they seek to foster at home.
Here are the core ingredients to make this happen among elected officials of every political persuasion:
(See below for what to say)
>The easiest thing to do, of course, is email your representatives, which you should do even though it the least effective method. Still, get on record as they count emails on the subject.
>School board members need to be targeted. Search for “school board” in (name of your city or town) and go to its website and get contact information for the board members.
>Not as easy is to send a snail-mail letter, which will count for more. Find addresses at the above links
>The next best easy thing to do – along with writing – is call their local offices and talk to a staff person. (Again, see links above for phone numbers. For Federal representatives you can call their DC office or local office.)
>The even more effective next thing to do walk into your local district or school board office and speak directly to staff members. Bring some downloaded articles about SEL to hand out.
>The very best thing to do is to schedule a visit to talk to your various government representatives when they are in their home office. Same with reaching out to your school board member or members (many locales don’t elect board members by district – and even if they do, it’s a good idea to talk to as many as possible).
>A generally good thing to do is go to relevant local public meetings that allow for public comments such as school board meetings – and even city council meetings, community forums sponsored by officials, town-halls and hearings.
>Give your name, say you’re a constituent, give your zip code and then say or write something along these lines:
“I want to talk about why we don’t have Social and Emotional Learning in the curriculum of all schools. I certainly want it in my child’s school [or in my local schools if you are not a parent]. It’s the best practice out there to elevate schools and give children a chance to be their best selves and successful in life.
“I’d like to hear back from you that you are willing to learn about- and get behind – this movement and create or endorse bills and funding to support SEL. Here is some material [printed or emailed] that will help you be informed if you aren’t already. You can also go to www.BigEQ.org to learn more.”
(NOTE: For links to share go to Resources.)
>It is always good to point legislators toward specific bills. (See a summary of latest helpful policies and proposed federal legislation.)
>For relevant state legislation, you need to search this out by searching your state legislature website for “social and emotional learning” legislation.
Contact us if you need assistance.
If someone wants to climb the career ladder in education (to earn more or to have an influence on the school system or for any other reason), they must choose the administrative path.
In the big picture one major reason not to point fingers at school administrators for laggard support for Social and Emotional Learning in their districts, is simply that the majority of administrators weren’t trained in SEL as part of the teacher leadership/administrative program on their way up.
Moreover, like it or not, many current administrators function from an old paradigm of professional advancement in which they are at the top of the pyramid, responsible for all decisions
Not required by this system is authentic, self-reflective, inclusive, collaborative decision making when it comes to school policies. read more
Put another way, many administrators have not been exposed to the new paradigm possibility of becoming a “servant-leader” – and may have no interest in this way of leading their district.
If an administrator hasn’t been guided to become aware of his or her own emotional and social states of being, how can she or he possibly model that to their staff and student body?
Comparable is a parent who has only been exposed to an authoritarian form of parenting with no experience of a more democratic way that includes using non-violent communication and empathy and finding it is better for their children and for the family as a whole.
Another impediment to wide-scale adoption of SEL programs is that high- level administrators sometimes move from district to district to advance their careers and salaries. This can create a lack of continuity in how an administration handles local district, state and federal initiatives and policies.
In fact, the effect can be chaotic given that it can take three or more years with no major disruptions for a new system to be fully integrated into a large school system, and some more years to iron out kinks.
This is especially true regarding soft skills like SEL, which requires a school district’s mission statement to embrace an interest in furthering self-reflection, life-long learning, and heart-based connection to change.
When pondering these realities, it’s useful also to remember that all institutions are a creation in and of themselves. A schooling institution is filled with large numbers of adults working there who have chosen to be part of it for a variety of reasons along children who are required to attend by law unless the parents choose home schooling.
For all these barrier-to-SEL-implementation reasons, it is paramount that the rest of us ask high-up policy makers on school boards and legislators to encourage and support the critical role SEL and mindfulness can play in improving school climate, student performance and supporting faculty.
It is our sincere hope that administrators will feel supported to say yes to the growth, healing, and mutual support that SEL offers when mindfully approached and implemented.
– Angela Benedetto, PhD
By Angela Benedetto, Ph.D.
I taught Family and Consumer Science in a large urban high school upstate New York in the city of Schenectady, for many years. Schenectady has the reputation of being a tough school city with an extremely diverse population of students, many of whom struggled with poverty and some who were at risk.
Many people probably don’t know this, but Family and Consumer Science curriculum teaches Social and Emotional Learning as an active part of its curriculum, so this was something I’d been doing for decades.
In 2000 I began my Ph.D. in Transformative Learning – and my relationship to Social and Emotional Learning and my students moved to a whole new level of relatedness.
I found myself participating in professional development trainings and conferences with leaders in the fields of mindfulness, neuroscience and learning, non-violent communication and SEL, including Parker Palmer, Jon Kabbatt Zinn and Linda Lantieri. And I began restructuring my classes to become even more inclusive, participatory, and nurturing for my students.
I began seeing them as the whole child: body, mind and creative spirit. read more
I also myself began to practice meditation much more constantly and mindfully, and set an intention to be more present and aware with my students. I’ll share two of my favorite stories. There were so many.
Our classroom at the high school became a fertile “playground” for great intellectual learning alongside the social and emotional skills such as understanding and managing feelings, and listening and developing empathy in and beyond the classroom and school.
The first few weeks of school, I began taking a chunk of time exploring with the students what we needed as a class to create a safe learning environment, with a strong emphasis on positive communication.
We would make our list of rules together and discuss logical consequences for our mutually agreed upon expectations, and then look at the curriculum and discuss which topics they thought were most relevant, and share why, so I could pace the course to my student’s needs.
Throughout the semester we would revisit our social, emotional and intellectual needs and use opportunities as a teachable moment to continue to improve our classroom environment.
I’ll never forget how shocked was the first class with which I did this.
Many students said they’d never been included in planning or organizing a class before and that they’d never felt so “seen” and taken into consideration. Some students volunteered to come after school and help make the classroom cozier.
We painted, and hung curtains, added plants and soft lights. I think this was when the magic took off. Students began using feeling terms about our learning environment like “It feels so chill in here.” And: “The class is almost over? I can’t believe how time flies!“
They were even doing college level assignments in some cases, and overall could relate to their class work with so much more ease. Some students would walk by and wonder if it was a faculty lounge.
As the semester went on I witnessed students practicing more and more care for one another in little ways that made a huge difference, like offering supplies to a student who was without, or saying excuse me when they noticed they’d interrupted another student.
Students began mentoring one another in group assignments and encouraging each other to complete assignments. The stack of disciplinary forms I needed the year before was nearly untouched… and remained so for the last few years I taught there.
Moreover, I felt much better equipped to handle the every-day stressors of working in such a large school. My house administrator saw the change in my classroom environment and supported my efforts.
SEL and mindfulness even helped me feel comfortable asking for support when I needed it. One teacher remarked that was no coincidence that our room, which was located center of the high school building, was “at the heart of” the building structure.
Carlos was a freshman who struggled with ADHD and impulsive behavior. He told me that after we practiced mindful meditation in class, teachers in his afternoon classes would ask him if he’d increased his medication for ADD because he was so composed.
Once he told me he’d tried the relaxation breathing on a car-ride and that it worked really well for not feeling carsick.
Carlos’ Human Development class had just completed the unit on healthy and unhealthy relationships and was doing a unit on communication skills and goal setting. They were to write an anecdote on decision-making. Carlos asked if he could use a situation he’d been experiencing with his girlfriend.
Her ex-boyfriend had been texting her with threats and bullying tactics. Carlos’s explained that his first impulse was to go to his apartment and beat him up.
I asked Carlos to explore possible/likely outcomes to this action, and what he could do when he felt the anger inside him rage. He decided to practice mindful- meditation and not take action until he got clear on his feelings and needs.
The next day Carlos stopped in to tell me he decided to encourage his girlfriend to speak with her parents, and let them know what was going on.
Carlos explained that among other reasons, he didn’t want to add more anxiety to his girlfriend’s stress. “I care about my girlfriend’s safety, and I have a positive relationship with her parents. Beating him up won’t solve anything and it will probably make things worse.”
Carlos and his girlfriend decided to speak to her parents together. Her parents knew the ex boyfriend and decided to speak directly with him. The ex boyfriend then backed off.
Moral: Carlos was able to make a sound decision and practice the self-control needed to create a positive outcome using his emotional intelligence beyond the classroom.
My friends at the school called me the “touchy-feely” teacher who taught SEL to the students. Unfortunately, only students interested in taking the Family and Consumer Science course with its built in relationship training got the teaching; it wasn’t infused om the curriculum.
Over the years since I retired from teaching in Schenectady, I’ve encountered several former students who expressed their gratitude for the course. Their comments are consistent. They learned skills that shaped their future, helped them make sound decisions and become more self-aware.
Lately I have been happy to learn that research in putting SEL theory into practice throughout the school year is being explored at many universities. I will be happier when know that growth SEL imparts is uniformly adopted into the curriculum of every school and school district from pre-school through university.