Angela Benedetto, Ph.D.
Are you concerned that your child’s school is optimizing her or his potential? And is it providing a truly safe and caring environment for learning and personal growth?
Are you concerned about your child’s moods, development and later success? Maybe you even worry each time you drop your kid off at school? Or wish your child had more friends and is too isolated and alone?
These may not be your specific concerns (from an endless parent menu). But whatever are yours, we believe you have a major responsibility to be sure that your school administrators understand that their programs and practices create what educators call a “whole child” development climate.
This absolutely includes emotional intelligence learning and social skills. These are the supposedly “soft life skills” that are fundamental for safe learning environments, as well as for happy life and relationship success.
In our view a parent who isn’t an advocate for “social-emotional learning” – the dominant educators’ term for those soft skills – has one of two reasons for not doing so: the parent doesn’t know this learning exists or has other priorities.
Assuming you want to prioritize your child’s optimal development, here is our “depth” guide for addressing the role of your school.
1) Emotional intelligence learning aka “social-emotional learning” may be called by other names in your home town, including “character development,” which is similar, or “positive behavior instruction,” which is different though contains some similar elements.
“Mind-fullness” programs and “morning greeting” programs are deservedly become more popular but are only one element of the full-on emotional intelligence learning your school should provide.
If your children never mention any learning that sounds as if it is along the lines of emotional management and awareness training, or skills in healthy relationships, conflict resolution, empathetic communication and making good decisions, then it’s likely such programs don’t exist in your school… and you would be smart to go advocate for them.
These are some of the core components of elevating emotional intelligence.
Also, if you and your child are unhappy 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 go back and learn more, then it’s likely your school lacks this desired environment.
You need then to step in to get that changed or transfer your child if possible.
2) Next step is to inform yourself of what the school is or isn’t doing. You can start from home by checking your school’s website or the school district’s website to see if they offer district-wide social-emotional learning.
The website may not say exactly what type of programs are offered and how fully the practices are integrated throughout school activities. (Many schools offer partial program such as anti-bullying training.) If the info isn’t there, call or visit the school and ask your child’s teachers or school guidance counselor or administrators, the names and nature of the programs.
Also ask whom in the school they apply to, and why they are not creating the results for your child you would want.
Once you are informed, you will know whether to tell school decision-makers that you want them to implement such learning in a comprehensive and consistent way that takes in all students (assuming the school has no such programming now). Or tell them you want them to improve greatly on whatever elements of the learning they’re using.
The highest goal is to advocate for social-emotional learning that’s fully implemented in curriculum and in the school culture, inside all classes and in activities outside the schoolroom.
This has several components and is most effective when the specialized training of teachers and staff is included to create a daily and persistent immersion of the students in a school-wide culture – one that allows them to practice the skills they are learning.
If there are already some EQ programs at the school, get their names and familiarize yourself with them online so you can support them with your interactions with your child at home. Ask if there is any literature or ways you can learn more about a specific program the school deploys. Ask also for any school reports on the effectiveness of the deployed program(s).
3) 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 a comprehensive manner. Many central districts approve specific programs but leave it to the discretion – and budget – of school principals to implement or ignore.
Advocating to Other Parents
1) Chances are your school has no immersive EQ learning for the entire student body. Next possible action: Check the district and school websites to learn what what formal parent groups or parent-teacher associations (PTAs) exist, then attend meetings and advocate for such learning in the school curriculum and culture.
2) Make it your goal wherever you meet parents to recruit allies. Talk about emotional intelligence learning when you’re at your children’s events – a school basketball game, cheer-leading competition, robotics club, or whatever presents an opportunity.
Also, invite people to your home for a group meeting or create lunch or coffee meetings that allow for discussion and for creating allied actions. Start by watching some videos together.
To prepare yourself, read the related sections of this website and google “social and emotional learning” where you will find 12 million citations that have escaped the general public. Also, search for local events focusing on education issues that you can attend and either learn more about “whole child education” or share what you have already learned.
3) Set up a Facebook page and Twitter account that parents can use to communicate with each other and to share with folks they are seeking to bring into the cause.
Advocating to Teachers
Meet with as many of your child’s teachers as you have time for. Most teachers are aware of social-emotional learning but are untrained in teaching it. Their major resistance is likely to be that they are already overloaded with tasks and programs 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 social-emotional learning schools (gathered from this site or others) about how teachers attitudes and moods improved dramatically (as did their emotional intelligence-trained students) in those schools. Note to them that academic results also improved, also often dramatically.
You can read more about what teachers need on the For Teachers tab. Your goal is to persuade them them join your advocacy effort. Also recommend that they on their own – or collectively with other teachers – learn the techniques, and then include social-emotional development into their classrooms.
A number of other teachers elsewhere have done this rather than wait on administrators to act. Often they then get the support of administrators (as in paying for requested programs) once the teachers demonstrate their learning.
Advocating to Administrators and School Boards
1) Check you school district’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 agenda.
2) Ideally in groups, and alone if necessary, seek out meetings with principals, individual board members and district officials and ask them to create a plan for rapid implementation of social-emotional development 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. Many school officials know about this learning in general terms but do not know about the array of programs and practices available or their effectiveness.
So be prepared with a list of videos that the “not knowers” can watch and the websites they can visit. (See our Guide for Administrators for thoughts to share with yours.)
3) You will definitely encounter resistance and “reasons” why EQ learning 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. There are so many programs out there and we don’t have the staff to vet them.”
Or: “We don’t have the money.” Or: “We’re too busy and beside it means retraining the teachers.”
Also: “We’d love to do it but the board won’t support it.” Or: “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 your simple answer is: “That is not acceptable. This learning saves money in the long run, particularly on remedial efforts, and it is your job as administrator (or board member) to plan creatively how this might happen. Once you do, we will join you in going to our legislators for the funding.
“Together, let’s plan how to make this happen. Please call a school-wide 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.)”
Be persistent. Don’t take no for an answer. Set up tag teams with your parent allies. Take separate smaller meetings with administrators and district board members, and make an effort to enlist teachers in the cause.
4) Announce any coordinated efforts to local media outlets so they begin to inform the community about the efforts. This will also require the media to look deeper into the effectiveness of emotional intelligence learning in other communities.
Most local media outlets are clueless about EQ learning, as are most major media outlets.
5) If so inclined, keep a diary of your efforts and the responses you receive. It could provide useful in a long battle and also with the media.
Important, share your experiences with us so we can post them on this website so that others can learn from you and you can learn from them. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
6) Finally, be 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 personally experienced social-emotional learning so don’t have the capacity to adopt easily and positively to even helpful change. So stay upbeat and persistent.