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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Embedding Social Emotional Learning into Academic Teaching

Yesterday a few students misbehaved. As I analyzed the situation, I realized that what I allowed them to do was beyond their skill set; they needed more guidance. At the onset, the small group convinced me that they were ready for the task, but clearly they were not. Young children, like many adults, can often see much more than they are ready to do, but with some good guidance they can reach unimaginable goals.

As I thought even more about this, I realized that we have to do a better job embedding social emotional learning SEL into all that we do with regard to academic teaching and learning. We have to always be cognizant of students' SEL strengths and needs, and work strategically to develop their strength and comfort in that area in tandem with academic goals.

For example, as I thought even more about the misbehavior, I realized that students needed some one-to-one time with a teacher to discuss needs, current actions/interests, and learning in general. I've seen signs of brilliance here, but haven't had the time to investigate more and embed that brilliance into our study options. In this situation, I also notice aspiration and drive that requires more skill building and strategy. We have what the students need, but we have to more strategically find ways to provide that teaching, coaching, support, and mentoring.

Many would like to reduce teaching to old time paper/pencil tasks, but cognitive science, technology integration, and social emotional learning research points us in many other directions. There are countless ways to teach and learn and all of those ways demand that a child feel good about himself/herself, have some control over the situation, and learn in meaningful ways. When we quickly reduce learning to a simple algorithm that doesn't take into account the complexity and intimacy that good learning truly is, then we do less than possible to serve children well.

Yes, trying to teach every child well is a complex activity, and yes, it takes time to think deeply about each and every student, but I believe this is what we have to do if we want to teach well by empowering and engaging students-we can't be satisfied with using a single score to rate or group students. We have to look deeper, listen to the stories, and meet children where they are with respect to their current skills, interests, and energy as well as their future dreams and aspirations.

Teaching well means teaching the whole child with depth, grace, and dignity. Every child matters and the more that we take the time to know each child well, the better we will be able to teach them with strength. Onward.