Social and Emotional Learning and Teachers.
Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl’s research through the University of British Columbia sheds interesting light on the role of teachers in social and emotional learning (SEL) for students. In short, effective SEL for students is much less likely to occur if it is not a part of the lived practice for teachers. Do as I say, not as I do will not work if children are to become resilient, engaged and well-rounded citizens.
In the research Schonert-Reichl not only shows that teachers need to integrate SEL into their own practice in order to teacher it effectively, but also that it is vital for their own well-being in the face of the demands of the profession. When teachers try to fake it, they fail. She describes a study in which teachers took and assessment to assess how close they were to social, emotional and professional burn-out. The regular saliva tests were then taken from the students of the teachers. The students will elevated cortisol levels, associated with increased stress, were those of the teachers whose assessments indicated that they were closest to burn out. Stress, it seems, can be contagious.
If we are to educate socially and emotionally literate students their learning context has to support SEL and the teachers have to be living models of it, not just pedagogues in it. Schonert-Reichl defines SEL competencies using the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework. They are:
· Social awareness.
· Relationship skills.
· Responsible decision-making.
She notes that that there are multiple benefits to SEL, ‘We’ve learned that we can promote students’ social and emotional competence, and that doing so not only increases their SEL but also their academic achievement.’ (pp138). In addition a study of 600 teachers referred to in her article showed that SEL improved the attendance of students, workforce readiness, citizenship and the transition to the next stage of education.
So, what is required if teachers are to be living models of SEL?
1. Professional development in SEL strategies. These enabled teachers to ‘feel better equipped to propose and implement classroom management strategies’ (pp142).
2. An emphasis on mindfulness. Programmes aimed at supporting mindfulness in teachers have been shown to ‘be effective in promoting both teachers’ SEL competence and wellbeing.’ (pp143).
3. A willingness to invest time and money in creating a high-quality classroom environment.
4. A desire on the behalf of teachers to align their outlook with the principles of SEL, in other words, to park any world-weary cynicism. Teachers defined in a Yale University study as ‘low quality implementers’ of SEL were all ‘initially resistant to the program’ (pp144) at the outset.
The implications of this study, she suggests, should be particularly noted in the reform of initial teacher training (ITT). Currently such skills are not a significant feature of ITT and the cost of that, Schonert-Reichl implies is overwhelmed teachers, poor retention levels in the profession and, ultimately, a failure to ‘create a generation of students who have acquired the social and emotional competencies they need for their adult roles as citizens, employees, parents and volunteers.’ (pp150)
If you would like to read the full article it can be found in The Future of Children (vol.27/no.1/Spring 2017)