I’ve heard it said too many times: Social and emotional learning shouldn’t be taught at school because that’s a job for parents.
Good in theory, but in reality, there are many children who lack supportive, loving and safe home environments that promote good values. Instead, these children often experience an ugly side of life that can have a devastating effect on their character and development.
Research shows that children naturally and almost unconsciously learn by following examples set by others, and those living in homes lacking warmth, caring, love and parental involvement, are likely to imitate the negative behavior they learn to consider normal.
Regardless of their situation, schools expect all children to act with respect, caring and kindness when interacting with their teachers and peers, and when their behavior is deemed antisocial or nasty, they may be labeled a bully.
Little tolerance or empathy is given to bullies. Concerned, angry parents usually find themselves overcome by emotion. They are unable to see beyond the pain inflicted on their child to consider the offender’s background or circumstances as a possible cause of their behavior.
The parents’ mission is to protect their child and stop the bullying. They often apply pressure on schools to reprimand offending children, failing to see the ineffectiveness of punishing those who may not know any better.
For schools to be successful in addressing exclusive or bullying behavior, they must acknowledge that a lack of character education within the home affects children’s emotional competency. It’s not enough to simply tell children not to bully, point out the consequences or suspend them from school. Children must be taught how to be kind, considerate and accepting of others.
Though they were originally established as academic learning institutions, it’s become clear that schools must now adopt a whole-child approach by including social and emotional learning (SEL) on an ongoing basis. Doing so will address social, emotional and mental health issues, as well as create safe and supportive environments for all children.
KidsMatter is an Australian government-funded mental health and well-being framework for primary schools. Their extensive research into SEL has tagged it as a key strategy for schools in their efforts to reduce bullying and improve caring, respect and responsibility.
Another advocate for SEL in schools, Maurice Elias, a professor at Rutgers University psychology department, says “we need to be prepared to teach kindness, because it can be delayed due to maltreatment early in life. It can be smothered under the weight of poverty, and it can be derailed by victimization later in life.”
“As a citizen, grandparent, father, and professional, it is clear to me that the mission of schools must include teaching kindness. Without it, communities, families, schools, and classrooms become places of incivility where lasting learning is unlikely to take place. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.”
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) says SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promotes a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students such as:
- Better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction.
- Improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior.
- Fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals.
- Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.
It’s encouraging seeing that educators and policymakers are increasingly aware of the importance of children’s social and emotional development. Many are prepared to take a modern approach to nurture well-rounded and society-ready children who care for others.