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Opinion & Essays - May, 2000 Issue #69 

Social and Emotional Education
Jodi Tuttle
, Head of School
Academy at Cedar Mountain

The focus of education today is on improvement. But, what do we mean by improvement? Some people center on basic skills, others on critical thinking, character development, drugs and violence prevention, while some think improved education means safer schools. However, when it comes to the bottom line, we are all attempting to prepare young people to become knowledgeable, responsible, caring adults. Few people realize that each element of this challenge can be enhanced by thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to studentsí social and emotional learning. When schools attend systematically to the development of studentsí social and emotional skills, the academic achievement of its students increases, the incidence of problem behaviors decreases, and the quality of relationships surrounding each student improves.

Social and emotional competence is the ability to understand, manage, and express the social and emotional aspects of oneís life in ways that enable the successful management of life tasks such as learning, forming relationships, solving everyday problems, and adapting to the complex demands of growth and development. It includes self-awareness, control of impulsivity, working cooperatively, and caring about oneself and others. Social and emotional learning is the process through which students develop the skills, attitudes and values necessary to acquire social and emotional competence.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Developmentís book, Promoting Social and Emotional Learning, specifies the need for explicit plans to help students become knowledgeable, responsible, and caring. They describe four major domains of Social and Emotional Learning:

1. Life skills and social competencies
2. Health-promotion and problem-prevention skills
3. Coping skills and social support for transitions and crises
4. Positive, contributory service

This book describes how success in each of the four domains involves the coordination of skills in emotion, cognition, and behavior. Emotional skills that need to be developed include recognizing cues from the faces, postures, and vocal tones of others, followed by labeling and verbalizing emotions. Students can expand their vocabulary for feelings and their ability to link feelings appropriately to an increasing range of situations. The ability of students to learn, access, and apply their learning is interwoven with their emotional skills.

Cognitive skill development teaches students how to listen accurately, pay attention, remember what they hear and learn, and guide themselves in thoughtful decision making and problem solving when facing choices or problematic situations in order to better live and learn in a social world. Social decision making and problem solving strategies can be enhanced with the following skills embedded in the curriculum:

a. Understanding signs of oneís own and othersí feelings;
b. Accurately labeling and expressing feeling;
c. Identifying oneís goals;
d. Thinking of alternative ways to solve a problem;
e. Thinking about long-and short-term consequences for oneself and others; and,
f. Reflecting on what happens when carrying out oneís strategies, and learning for the future.

The behavioral portion of the curriculum is necessary to help students accurately process the information contained in social encounters, to engage in thoughtful social decision-making, and to be able to approach others in difficult situations without provoking anger or annoyance. These skills include the ability to follow directions, calm oneself down when under stress, manage anger effectively, and communicate clearly in a respectful and civil manner. Group participation in skill development helps students learn: social responsibility, how to make constructive task-oriented contributions in groups, and ways to build meaningful communities.

In order to learn social responsibility, effective group work and community building, students need to learn how to: a. Recognize and elicit trust, help and praise from others; b. Recognize othersí perspectives; c. Choose friends wisely; d. Share, wait and participate in groups (including cooperative learning groups); e. Give and receive help and criticism; f. Resist pressure from peers and the media to engage in antisocial, illegal, or dangerous behaviors; and g. Exercise leadership, accept diversity, and demonstrate desirable attributes such as honesty, responsibility, compassion, and caring.

How can we make this happen? At the Academy at Cedar Mountain, we believe that acquiring an integrated set of social and emotional skills occurs best in an experiential context, where skills are learned though practice and role modeling. Our social and emotional development curriculum is based on a school-wide program that assists students with issues connected to social and emotional intelligence. It is incorporated into classes and activities and linked with the Academyís existing goals. These include the nurturing of all aspects of the student: spiritual, intellectual, social, and emotional. Administrators, teachers, coaches and staff explicitly incorporate a decision-making approach in their dealings with students. The program includes an interaction of cognitive, affective, and behavioral components which include:

1. A classroom program, providing cross-discipline instruction on issues of social competence and the intelligent management of oneís emotions;
2. A school-wide program, including a daily reflection (by students and staff), designed to reinforce classroom efforts that promote healthy development;
3. Small- group meetings for students with more serious needs to help build self-control or social awareness skills;
4. Career Awareness and Wellness programs; and
5. Workshops for students and/or parents that focus on particular themes for social and emotional learning.

The culmination of a social and emotional learning program should be to develop the four Cís: Confidence, Competencies, Chances, and Caring, with the goal of inspiring students with confidence that they can learn, accomplish, and interact successfully in a range of situations. This confidence needs to be developed as a result of actual acquisition of the competencies needed for academic and social successes A social and emotional learning program should create chances for students to use their skills, and to learn in the protected and supervised arena of the school so that they will be less at risk in the relatively unsupervised and unscripted world in which they live after leaving school. Each student needs to feel valued as a meaningful member of the class and school. It is particularly important that we show caring to students so that they can in turn respond with caring toward themselves and others as they move on in life. With these tools, students can become knowledgeable, responsible, and caring adults.

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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