Myths are common in education. The most persistent is the silver-bullet myth. You know, the one that goes something like, “If we just do _____, we will fix education.” No matter what fills in the blank, this statement won’t be true because one symptomatic “tweak” simply can’t produce a complete “fix” in any complex system.
In this blog post, Thriving Learning CommunitiesTM (TLC), explains what social and emotional learning is and why it is critical for students. We offer three success factors in creating positive learning cultures.
What is Social and Emotional Learning?
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a foundational part of human development. SEL advances educational equity, and allows students to acquire and apply necessary skills for managing emotions, showing empathy, maintaining healthy relationships, and making responsible decisions.
For educators willing to think systemically, profound change is possible by utilizing the science of character strengths and social emotional learning to remake school culture. Almost thirty years working with thousands of educators around the world tells us that intentionally shaping a positive learning culture with research-based strategies energizes and maximizes every effort towards shared goals and encourages learners of all ages to be their best every day. It is the silver tool, not the silver bullet, that builds systemic and transformational change.
What are the 5 Core Skills in Social and Emotional Learning?
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the nation’s leading organization for advancing the development of social and emotional competence for all students lists five core competencies in their SEL framework.
Understanding our emotions, thoughts, values, and how they influence our behavior across contexts.
Managing our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and achieving goals and aspirations.
- Social Awareness
Understanding the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.
- Relationship Skills
Establishing and maintaining healthy and supportive relationships to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.
- Responsible Decision-Making
Making caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.
This framework takes a systemic approach that emphasizes the importance of establishing equitable learning to enhance all students’ social, emotional, and academic learning.
How Can Character Strengths Help with SEL?
Helping learners thrive. It is the reason educators choose to work in schools. They instinctively know that reaching this aim is about more than acquiring narrowly defined subject knowledge. They see learners as the whole individuals that they are and aim to cultivate social and emotional (SEL) competencies, knowing these capacities are critical for flourishing in school and beyond.
Even with this insight, developing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship-building and responsible decision-making can be turned into, yet one more, deficit-based program approach, whereby the learner is assessed for what she doesn’t possess. This lens distorts vision to see what’s wrong, not what’s strong in the individual. However, by understanding every learner’s strengths, it is possible to create a personalized and appreciative pathway to develop critical competencies and shape a positive learning culture for all learners.
Breakthrough research confirms the importance of a positive approach. The work of Dr. Barbara Frederickson’s indicates that people “who have more positive emotions in relation to negative emotions are more likely to flourish. They possess the capacity to ‘broaden and build’ ideas, providing the basis for creativity, problem solving and resiliency.”
What Do You Need for Positive Culture Transformation?
We have worked with more than 50 schools around the country implementing Thriving Learning CommunitiesTM (TLC), a research-based approach to improving students’ social and emotional competencies by revealing and catalyzing individual character strengths. This work has revealed several critical success factors in creating positive learning cultures.
Educators who know their own strengths, focus on their own social and emotional development, and share their personal experience with students are much more effective in reshaping their classroom and school culture.
A TLC teacher noted that her own personal learning experience was critical to fully bringing character strengths to the classroom. “If we didn’t experience the model for ourselves as teachers, we couldn’t have talked about it as deeply with our children.”
According to one principal, “Adults need this as much as kids do. If we can acknowledge our top strengths, we can mobilize to achieve great things.”
In addition to sharing their own stories, educators who are successfully transforming their cultures are also highly skilled at active listening to draw out the experiences of learners.
A TLC principal describes a situation where a young boy had an emotional outburst in class and cried. “He was deeply embarrassed about going back into the classroom,” the principal recalls. The leader asked the boy what he needed to find in himself to return to the classroom and they discussed bravery. “The definition of bravery helped him realize it wouldn’t be easy but that it could be done. My feeling is he could find it in himself because of the work we’re doing.”
A Reading Specialist in a TLC school shared how she addressed a problem where there was conflict. “We acted it out and talked about how to handle the conflict. I’ve seen huge growth in the children, and having that character strength language is the key.”
Dedicated time to introduce character strengths and SEL competencies is critical, but it’s not enough. Culture is transformed through a two-pronged approach—when there is focused attention to introducing new ideas along with embedding implementation throughout the day.
During a recent activity in a school gym, fifth grade students learning about travel and tourism careers set up a travel fair for younger students. Before they staffed their individual booths representing Brazil, Saudi Arabia and other travel destinations, they gathered and sat on the floor. Hands shot up across the room to volunteer answers about what character strengths would be required to work in travel. Responses included “teamwork,” “creativity” and “zest.”
The Resource Coordinator in another school shares excitement for how this work has become integrated in the broader community, not just at the school. “There’s an awakening in the school,” she professes. “The parents feel different. It’s trickling down and manifesting. It’s pervasive.” Key positives in this school’s “awakening” are a decline in discipline issues and an overall increase in family involvement. The principal says the types of discipline issues are less severe, and they’ve made fewer referrals. “We’re having more conversations about the antecedent of behavior. Students are able to articulate and use the language of Thriving Learning Communities to talk about those things.”
When teachers and school communities utilize these three practices, they report that the Thriving Learning Communities approach has helped them to:
- foster a positive environment in and out of the classroom;
- provide a common language for educating the whole child;
- help students capitalize on the good in each of them;
- create a stronger, kinder class environment with less bullying; and
- build community and get students speaking to each other about their common ground of strengths.
Across the more than 50 TLC schools, we see engagement, motivation, learning and performance collectively on the rise as educators transform their school cultures. Social and emotional learning is the what and character strengths are the how.
It’s time we trade in the mythical silver bullets for purposeful silver tools!
Contact Mayerson Academy for Strengths-Based SEL Resources Delivered Online
If you’d like a proven Social and Emotional Learning curriculum with on-the-ground and virtual support, we’re here for you! Our experienced team of educational consultants is dedicated to helping you and your students succeed. Start a conversation with us to ﬁnd out about Thriving Learning Communities’™ Hub24, our new just-in-time digital learning platform designed to meet today’s critical need for SEL. Connect here or call us at 513-263-2210 to receive a free 15-minute demo of Hub24.