Could Social Emotional Learning in Schools Make A Difference?
There was a very interesting article in the *New York Times *earlier this month that looked at the implementation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) instruction in some select schools in the States. (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/magazine/can-emotional-intelligence-be-taught.html?h=TAQFZ5eWk&s=1&smid=fb-share&) It is a long, thoughful, considered article worth reading. SEL is "based on the idea that emotional skills are crucial to academic performance" according to the piece. Essentially, it is the idea that students can be taught to self-reflect and express their experience of things in a productive way that will help them manage stress, workloads, and relationships better.
Anyone who has ever taught and done so with any passion, knows the above is true, whether studies show it to be so or not. Yet, something about the word 'teach' here has me a little uncomfortable. I'm just not sure that it isn't more facilitation and modelling. Creating the space for this growth, presenting a framework for how to manage it, and modelling how it is done, I believe, can help students significantly in school and, more broadly, in their life. And, I do think they can carry this with them. Indeed, how they experience school will be second to how they experience their home life in cementing adult ideas and behaviour about the world. Schools have the opportunity to be a saner, safer place for students that are struggling at home. Teachers have the opportunity to be a solid, consistent, trustworthing, reliable, and authentic adult who cares about students who may feel very much alone.
Will SEL solve the bigger problems for those students suffering in silence from severe problems like bullying, abuse, or neglect? I think it is unlikely to be enough in its own. It is heartbreaking to work in schools, as you realise far more children than you ever imagined are feeling worthless, unloved, lonely, afraid. Yet, I think it could help a lot of students develop positive habits and, for those suffering but lucky enough to be known and get some school counselling, it could reinforce what their therapist would like them to see - there are some positive relationships and beautiful things out there in this world.