Education Opinion

Social-Emotional Leading

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 23, 2014 3 min read
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We are hearing more these days about the emergence of a social emotional learning (SEL) movement across the country and with good reason. As we have focused increasingly on standards and accountability, educators have observed the results of forgetting a whole child sits before us. Edutopia describes SEL: "... students develop a sense of self will ultimately help them to better manage their emotions, communicate, and resolve conflicts nonviolently.” Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an Applied Developmental Psychologist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology and Special Education at the University of British Columbia explains why educating the hearts of our children is essential.

The New York Times reported recent developments in our Senate:

If there is a rock bottom in the frayed relationship between Senate Republicans and Democrats, it seemed uncomfortably close as the final days of 2013 on Capitol Hill degenerated into something like an endurance contest to see who could be the most spiteful.

In that same article, Senator Lamar Alexander said, “I think it resembles fourth graders playing in a sandbox, and I’ll give the majority leader, Harry Reid, 99 percent of the responsibility for it.” We contend fourth graders often do better than Congress in solving their differences but his point is still well taken.

Herein lies a leadership challenge for us. We live and work in a terrain of varying opinions, vehemently expressed and appearing irreconcilable except through the democratic process of a vote. Nevertheless, majority rule leaves winners and losers who still need to work together. Worse yet is when such deviousness leads to positions of right and wrong, us and them. Then animosity drifts from issues to people. There is no dignity when bitterness, sarcasm and disrespect rule the day. Often we find ourselves wanting to be heard and not to be a single voice crying out in a dessert where no one is there to hear us. We seek those who think like us and form coalitions, ever building resistance forces.

Ultimately, we are at war. We even use the language “gearing up for battle”. Our country’s DNA has war in it. Our very existence as a nation is a result of a war between two countries. We fight among ourselves and with other countries. In the twentieth century, our social changes came more as movements than as warfare. In the 1960’s the Civil Rights Movement certainly had two sides, and violence took lives, but it was closer to a war of ideologies and led by those who were armed with vision and purpose. Over time, the rights of black people and women have evolved. Progress, yes, but far from fully accomplished. Societal change takes time.

What if we considered that the same SEL from which children benefit became a component of leader development? Would we discover that new leaders could change the terrain of schools...and of politics? Let’s consider, for a moment, the five core, interrelated competencies that CASEL identifies for students: self-awareness, self -management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Few, if any, certification programs for school leaders teach or test these competencies. Research suggests that students who have the benefit of SEL programs have improved academic performance, fewer negative behaviors, better attitudes and reduced emotional stress. The success of leaders at all levels might benefit from these competencies as well. If we seek improved performance, fewer negative behaviors, better attitudes and less stress, wouldn’t that be wonderful? We might even be able to do more than endure these challenging times. It takes us to our core and away from the frantic and incessant motion of the surface.

Here, a reminder from Sir Ken Robinson about the value of educating the heart and mind.

This is the work that drew us into the field. Subjects are the vehicles for the mind to open and become inquisitive and delight in learning. But each of us in a school workplace, big and small, are doing social-emotional work simultaneously. What is most remembered about one’s 13 years in school? Who do we remember and why? Most often it isn’t about content; it is about a person...the teacher, nurse, janitor, principal, bus driver...who was kind, who saw our potential, who offered protection when we were vulnerable. It is in the social-emotional domain that our good and bad memories last. We are not so different in that regard, even as adults.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.