Social and Emotional Learning

In examining public school education, one can focus on academics alone and sadly lose sight of other important dimensions of child development. A child is expected not only to master reading, writing and arithmetic but also grow healthy - both physically and emotionally. Society requires not only critical thinking but social skills as well. And since character especially self-control is correlated with better learning, a child whose physical, emotional and social needs are met is likewise more likely to do well in academics. Those who advocate for these additional dimensions in learning may be quick to ask for special programs or additional subjects in school. These, however, are not necessary. Social and emotional learning can be integrated inside lessons and activities in reading, writing, math, arts, music, science and social studies. The trick is building and nurturing a special bond between a child and the school. A school is no different from a home. Inside each classroom is also a place to represent, reason and relate. Instructional practices that provide opportunities for team work and sharing, and greater family involvement so that parents and teachers work together pave effective routes for establishing such special relationship between a child and a school. These efforts genuinely make a child feel belonging to a classroom, a small yet representative section of the community.

Research is clear with regard to the benefits society stands to gain when schools help children develop well physically and emotionally. Hawkins et al. (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1999;153(3):226-234.) pointed out through a 12-year longitudinal study that paying attention to social competencies reduced violent and heath-risk behaviors as well as teenage pregnancy. The interventions used in this study included in-service training of teachers, parenting classes for adults, and social competency training for the students, all of which are designed at each appropriate grade level:

Aside from parent training, most of these interventions can be easily integrated within the framework of day-to-day classroom activities. The authors noted the following in their conclusions:
It is noteworthy that the interventions tested here were provided only during the elementary grades without any boosters or follow-up intervention in the following 6 years. One explanation for the durability of these effects in contrast to those observed by others is that this intervention focused on increasing school bonding and achievement rather than on developing norms or skills specifically related to avoiding health-risk behaviors. Developing a strong commitment to schooling in the elementary grades may set children on a developmental path toward school completion and success that is naturally reinforced both by teachers responsive to eager students and by the students' own commitment to schooling. In contrast, school curricula that focus on changing students' norms to be less approving of health-compromising behaviors and on developing their skills to resist social influences to violate those norms may require booster sessions through adolescence to maintain healthy norms or standards for behavior.
There were no special courses on sex education or drug abuse. There were no special character education courses that student took. The interventions mainly focused on making students believe that school was important. The interventions mainly focused on students doing better in their studies. With math and science, education reformers are more than eager to embrace "learning by doing, learning by discovery". It turns out, character education works the same way. Students learn these values not through boring sermons, but through living them.

A more recent study, a meta-analysis of studies investigating the effectiveness of school-based social and emotional learning (SEL), arrives at similar conclusions. Durlak et al. in the journal Child Development, summarize what is known so far in this field:
Current findings document that SEL programs yielded significant positive effects on targeted social-emotional competencies and attitudes about self, others, and school. They also enhanced students’ behavioral adjustment in the form of increased prosocial behaviors and reduced conduct and internalizing problems, and improved academic performance on achievement tests and grades.
Thus, not only does social and emotional learning help society in the future, it also helps students perform better in schools. To provide an example of SEL, here is a summary of Raising Healthy Children (RHC), a program developed by the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington at Seattle:
Raising Healthy Children (RHC) is a multifaceted program with components focusing on classroom teachers, parents, and students with the goal of decreasing the negative impact of the student in the classroom by providing services to the family. The teacher intervention includes a series of workshops for instructional improvement in classroom management. Workshops focus on instructional strategies shown to be effective in mainstream classrooms in reducing academic risks and early aggressive behaviors while enhancing protective factors among elementary students. Workshop topics include proactive classroom management, cooperative learning methods, strategies to enhance student motivation, student involvement and participation, reading strategies, and interpersonal problem-solving skills. Teachers from the same school attend workshops together to foster and reinforce shared learning experiences. In addition, after each workshop RHC project staff provide classroom coaching for teachers. After the first year of the project, teachers participate in monthly booster sessions to further reinforce RHC teaching strategies. Teachers are also provided a substitute for a half-day so they can observe other project teachers using RHC teaching strategies in their classrooms. Implementation of the RHC program for parents is conducted by school-home coordinators who are classroom teachers or specialists with experience in providing services to parents and families. Parent training and involvement are offered through various mechanisms such as five-session parenting group workshops, selected topic workshops, and in-home problem-solving sessions. Topics for parent training include family management skills and "How to Help Your Child Succeed in School." In addition, monthly newsletters are sent to parents to reinforce and extend parenting content regarding the RHC intervention. The student intervention consists of summer camps targeting students with academic or behavioral problems who are recommended by teachers or parents. In addition, in-home services are provided for students referred for behavior or academic problems.

Building and nurturing relationships between home and school, and forming a strong bond between a child and the school - is a win-win situation. A holistic approach yields not only a socially competent individual, but also improves test scores.


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