If we only teach academics to our students we are not helping those students to achieve their full potential as they enter the world of work and as caring citizens of our nation. “Highly effective” teachers know that there is so much more to education than reading and math. AND YES reading and math are very important. But if this is our only focus, we do a disservice to our children and to our world. Teaching only reading and math leaves out necessary skills that develop the whole child.
I believe in social and emotional learning. I believe it is important that we help children develop social and emotional skills. It is important that we develop and teach the whole child. How we do that – well, as everything else there are different views on how this should be done.
One thing I strongly believe: we DON’T need another curriculum added to our teaching. When character education became popular, suddenly there was an influx of “research based” curriculum programs. We were to teach character as a curriculum in addition to what we were already teaching. In my opinion this was a failure. Why? Because character education, like social and emotional learning, should be infused throughout the school day. It should not be an add-on, but part of the educational process.
Social emotional learning as well as character education occurs with the kind of environment teachers create, the interactions teachers have with students, and the relationships that teachers build with kids. Social emotional learning is embedded in all teachers do and in every subject that is taught. It is awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of each and every student. It is awareness of the concerns and fears and challenges students may possess. It is awareness of cultures and traditions. It is listening to and understanding students. It is meeting the needs of students. It is helping students to value themselves and others. It is helping students to grow as a whole person.
If we hope to teach social and emotional learning, we must bring social studies and science back into the elementary classrooms. Understanding people and differences, history and failures and successes – are basic components of social and emotional learning. Knowing how to problem solve and to use inquiry are important ingredients for the success of our students as they enter the adult world and as they become caring citizens.
If schools want to create an environment that values social and emotional learning, the schools must also value its teachers. Leadership must listen to teachers. They must know the strengths and weaknesses of the teachers. They should know the passions within their teachers. Leadership does not say – “You must use this curriculum to build social and emotional learning.” “You must hold morning meetings each day.” “You must do this. You must do that.” “We will do walkthroughs to check your fidelity.” Instead teachers should be allowed to research and discuss how to create an environment that supports social and emotional learning. Teachers might want to look at how to develop relationships. They might want to know how they can strengthen social and emotional learning through the subjects they already teach, not as an additional curriculum added to the school day. When we value the thoughts and work of our teachers, we value our students.
Do we teach the whole child or do we just teach reading and math? If we only teach math and reading to achieve test scores and forget the whole child, our children will be lost. Our world will be lost. We cannot forget social studies, science, the arts… nor can we forget social emotional learning. When I look at a child, I see the whole child before me. I want children to be good readers and mathematicians – and I want so much more. I want them to be able to meet the challenges of life and continue moving forward whatever life may bring. This takes social emotional learning. Educate the whole child!