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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

New Report Offers Guidance to Help Meet the Needs of the Whole Child

By Peter DeWitt — September 02, 2013 4 min read
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Whenever I hear about the Whole Child I think of ASCD‘s Whole Child Initiative. I can’t even write about the whole child without mentioning ASCD. The Whole Child Initiative is the single most important idea in education...yes, that is my opinion.

What comes hand-in-hand with the Whole Child Initiative is social-emotional learning. ASCD is not the only organization that focuses on it, and lately there have been more and more reports that help schools evaluate both their school climates and how they teach social-emotional learning (SEL).

We know that social-emotional learning is important. That’s not really some controversial statement that makes people stand back pondering whether it’s true or not. As educators we know that we must meet (with the help of parents) the social-emotional needs of students before we can accomplish most of the other things we are charged with doing....like teaching.

But what is social-emotional learning?

According to Yoder (2013) “Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing students’ social-emotional competencies, that is, the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that individuals need to make successful choices” (CASEL, 2003).

Educators have long discussed how to help students make the right choices, and many of our students do not know how to learn from failure because they are so protected from it. Social-emotional learning helps students build resiliency and learn from failure. It helps them make the best choices in life.

Unfortunately, in our present system there is some question as to whether teachers can meet the social-emotional needs of students when they have to spend so much time teaching the Common Core State Standards. Perhaps it’s just that I have spent eighteen years in elementary education, but I do believe that we can do both. With the help of counselors, psychologists and school leaders, the school community should be able to help foster a school climate that helps meet the social-emotional needs of students.

And we also need good resources to guide us...

Teaching the Whole Child
The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (American Institutes for Research) released a new report this month called Teaching the Whole Child: Instructional Practices That Support Social-Emotional Learning in Three Teacher Evaluation Frameworks.

In the report, Nicholas Yoder writes,
To bridge the connection between social-emotional learning and the work that educators are already doing, educators need access to tools, supports, and resources on social-emotional learning that are integrated into existing teacher evaluation, and professional development systems.”

In the brief, which you can find here, Yoder aims to meet the following two goals:
“Identify the instructional practices that promote student social-emotional learning, which in turn are critical for student academic learning
• Showcase how three popular professional teaching frameworks embed practices that influence not only student academic learning but also student social and emotional competencies.”

According to the study, CASEL‘s Five Core Social-emotional Competencies are:
“Self-awareness - is the ability to recognize one’s own feelings, interests, and strengths, in addition to maintaining an accurate level of self-efficacy
• Self-management - skills allow individuals to handle daily stresses and control their emotions under difficult situations.
• Social awareness - allows individuals to take others’ perspectives into account and to empathize with others.
• Relationship Management - allows students to develop and maintain healthy relationships with others, including the ability to resist negative social pressures, resolve interpersonal conflict, and seek help when needed.
• Responsible decision making - enables students to keep in mind multiple factors - such as ethics, standards, respect, and safety concerns-when making decisions.”

Action Steps
Yoder goes on to offer action steps to support social-emotional learning for states, districts, administrators and teachers. He breaks down instructional practices that promote social-emotional learning. They are:

Student-Centered Discipline
• Teacher Language
• Responsibility and Choice
• Warmth and Support (Teacher and Peer)
• Cooperative Learning
• Classroom Discussions
• Self-Reflection and Self-Assessment
• Balanced Instruction
• Academic Press and Expectations
• Competence Building-Modeling, Practicing, Feedback, Coaching

In addition, the report by the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders goes on to say how schools can use their present evaluation systems to embed social-emotional learning into teacher and administrator evaluation. The three specific evaluative frameworks that Yoder writes about are CLASS (Bob Pianta), Danielson’s Frameworks, and Marzano’s Observational Protocol.

He does an excellent job of offering a crosswalk to show how SEL can be embedded into evaluation and offers many different ways that teachers and administrators can embed it into their every day practices. In addition, Yoder’s 10 Instructional Practices section can help school leaders and teachers create a crosswalk that will help them evaluate what they are already doing and how they can improve on it.

The report is definitely worth a read, and offers some great practical frameworks for school leaders, teachers and policymakers.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.