We know that if our children are to be successful in school and

By Gloria Henderson,2014-01-11 09:39
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We know that if our children are to be successful in school and

    Promoting Children’s Ethical Development

    Through Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

    Elizabeth Devaney, Mary Utne O’Brien, Mary Tavegia, and Hank Resnik

    The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

    University of Illinois at Chicago


    In today’s climate of increased emphasis on accountability, academic subjects are too often

    divorced from the social context in which they are taught. We know that learning is a social

    process. In fact, many educators and other youth development practitioners recognize that

    social, emotional, and ethical skills development cannot be ignored in the name of better

    academic preparation, especially in the face of data showing that students are more disengaged

    than ever. Social and emotional learning (SEL) offers educators and other youth development

    personnel a framework for addressing students’ social and emotional needs in systematic way.

    SEL is the process of acquiring the skills to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring

    and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle

    challenging situations effectively. Research has shown that SEL has an impact on every aspect

    of children’s development – their health, ethical development, citizenship, academic learning, and motivation to achieve. One school, Cossitt Elementary School in LaGrange, Illinois has

    been implementing SEL programming for over 9 years and has seen remarkable changes in

    their students and staff. The school climate is supportive and caring. Students resolve conflicts

    amongst themselves peacefully, they show respect for one another despite differences, they

    work well together, and they demonstrate an understanding of and commitment to the larger

    world around them. The lessons learned from Cossitt can inform programming in a wide variety

    of settings, including other schools, after school programs, and summer camps.

Although few educators, youth development practitioners, and student support services

    personnel question the importance of helping children to develop the skills necessary to be

    successful in the workplace, make ethical decisions, and be engaged and contributing citizens,

    these skills are rarely taught explicitly and effectively. The pressures of accountability for

    student performance, accelerated by the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act

    of 2002, lead educators to focus solely on improving test scores in the core areas of reading

    and mathematics. Today‘s out-of-school time programming is also overwhelmingly under pressure to maintain an academic focus. This focus on testing means that too often, academic

    subjects are divorced from the social context in which they are taught. Educators feel they must

    choose between teaching content and teaching character; between engaging students in the

    study of great literature or nurturing great values; between preparing for high stakes tests or

    preparing for the high stakes tasks of learning to cooperate with peers, avoiding risk taking

    behaviors, and engaging in positive civic activities.

    This is a preprint of an article published in New Directions for Youth Development, Doing the Right Thing, Ethical Development Across Diverse Environments, Feb. 2006.



     1 highlighted why we can no longer afford to choose academics In 2003, the Search Institute

    over social, emotional, and ethical development. Their surveys of youth indicate that:

    ? 29% feel that they think through the consequences of their choices and plan ahead-but

    71% do not.

    ? 35% say that they respect the values and beliefs of people from different races and

    cultures-but 65% do not.

    ? 24% report feeling that their teachers really care about them-but 76% do not.

Many educators and other youth development practitioners recognize that social, emotional,

    and ethical skills development cannot be ignored in the name of better academic preparation.

    They know learning is a social process children do not learn alone but rather in collaboration with teachers and other adults, in the company of their peers, and with the support of their

    families. Emotions can facilitate or hamper their learning and, ultimately, their success in school

    and life. But while many who work with youth understand this, they have had little support to

    help them combine social, emotional, and academic learning.

All this is changing. Twenty years of research show that efforts to promote children‘s social and

    emotional competence have had substantial impacts on educational motivation, behavior, risk-

    taking, and attachment to school. And recent research has demonstrated that in the process,

    social and emotional learning programming also improves academic performance.

What is SEL?

    Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), a concept formally introduced by the Collaborative for

    Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in the book Promoting Social and 2Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators, provides educators, both in and outside of

    schools, with a way to address the needs of all students by teaching critical skills for success in

    school and life, while still focusing on their primary academic mission.

SEL is the process of acquiring the skills to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring

    and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle

    challenging situations effectively. Research has shown that SEL has an impact on every aspect

    of children‘s development – their health, ethical development, citizenship, academic learning, 3and motivation to achieve. CASEL has identified five key areas of social and emotional competency that are essential for children‘s social, emotional, and ethical functioning:


     Figure 1: Five SEL Competency Areas

In other words, if our schools, after-school programs, and youth development agencies work

    together to help young people to be self aware, to manage their emotions, to be aware of others,

    to have good relationships skills, and to solve problems effectively, we‘ve equipped them with

    the skills they need to live ethically and responsibly. The good news is that these skills can be

    taught, and many excellent evidence-based programs that help children develop such skills are 4. SEL is more than a program, however. It is an approach to educating children that available

    starts in the classroom but quickly moves beyond it to the lunchroom, the playground, the 5playing fields, the summer programs, and the home environment.

An Illustration of Successful SEL Implementation

    Cossitt Elementary School in LaGrange, Illinois began implementing SEL programming more

    than nine years ago. With 580 students in grades pre-K through 6, Cossitt is a school where

    children feel safe, comfortable, and happy and where, after many years of careful and thoughtful

    programming, SEL has reached into every corner of the school community.

Cossit‘s SEL work stems from a carefully planned implementation effort. A team of parents,

    teachers, and administrators worked together to conduct a needs assessment and select an

    evidence-based SEL program. By unanimous decision the team chose the nationally- 6recognized and well-researched Child Development Project (CDP) [later revised and renamed

    Caring School Community (CSC)]. The program was a starting point for what would become a

    much bigger and more integrated approach to SEL in the school.

Central to the adoption and success of CDP was the school team‘s support of the program‘s

    central values and core beliefs. Those values and beliefs, which Cossitt has developed into their

    own mission, continue to be a strong guide for the educational process at Cossitt today:

? Children learn through relationships. Just as anyone who feels part of a community will

    uphold the values of that community and promote the well-being of its members, so children

    who feel they belong to a caring community of learners will value learning and each other as



? Intellectual, ethical, and social learning are not independent. Each affects the others.

? Children from all social, economic, and cultural backgrounds are learnersand a caring

    community of learners includes all children.

? Children want to learn, and will learn when presented with a challenging, engaging


? Learning must relate to children‘s lives. It should connect to the issues that matter to them

    and that confront themsuch as how to be a good friends, how to play fair, how to be both

    ―nice‖ and honest, and what it means to do a good job.

? When children work together, emphasizing collaboration more than competition, they learn

    more, feel better about themselves and their classmates, like school, and enjoy learning.

The First Year A Critical Turning Point

    The teachers at Cossitt entered the first year of CDP implementation with high expectations for

    the program and great enthusiasm. As described in a report evaluating their efforts, ―The August

    training of the entire teaching and support staff generated a deep well of trust in one another

    and shared understanding and unity about the kind of environment staff wanted for themselves

    as teaching professionals and for their students. Many described it as ‗a gift‘ just to be invited to

    think about and articulate broader visions about the school environment and the long-term 7 purpose of their classroom activities.‖

Despite their enthusiasm, after several months the adults at Cossitt were disappointed that the

    new program was not creating the kinds of changes in the school they had envisioned. Looking

    back on this early phase from the vantage point of many years, staff members now refer to this

    experience with self-mocking humor. ―We kept waiting for kids‘ behavior to magically change,

    and it didn‘t in dramatic ways,‖ says one. ―In fact, for many kids it was a struggle and a time for ‗testing‘ their new role in the school‖

According to Principal Mary Tavegia:

    The fall of 1997 was a major turning point for the staff. People were saying, ‗Why aren‘t

    these kids changing?‘ We were doing a great deal of reflecting on the process at our

    staff meetings, and finally we had a group ‗aha!‘ We realized we expected the children to

    change—but not ourselves as educators. We‘d been thinking the program would work if

    we ‗fixed‘ the children, but we realized we were the ones who had to changeand then

    the children‘s behavior would change, too. That was a major awareness for us.

The ―group ‗aha!‘‖ was a critical step in moving the project forward. As one teacher observed,

    although they might have encouraged students to assist in developing classroom rules prior to

    CDP, they would have viewed it as a way of exercising control over the children. Under the new

    approach, they came to think of it as a way of encouraging children to take responsibility for

    their own behavior and learning. This shift was both subtle and profound.

As one teacher recalls:


    At first I found giving up some control and allowing students more autonomy personally

    challenging, but I‘ve learned to take these risks. When we started the program I was a

    fairly new teacher. I was still trying to get a handle on classroom management, but I've

    been so pleased with the results. Adding SEL has made a huge difference in my

    teaching and is a big part of who I am as a teacher today.

SEL Today

    Today, SEL is seamlessly integrated into everything that happens at Cossitt. Take a stroll

    through the halls, peek into the classrooms, or step onto the playground, and you are likely to

    see any one of the following. All are based on actual recent observations at Cossitt:

    ? Class meetings. Second-graders and their teacher gather together on the carpeted floor of

    a classroom for ―morning meeting.‖ The student leader for the day asks everyone to use a

    ―butterfly greeting,‖ welcoming the classmates to their left and right. The students practice

    skills they‘ve learned as part of the school‘s SEL programming, including using eye contact,

    body language, and an appropriate tone of voice. The student leader follows this with

    sharing time. She starts by telling what she did over the weekend. Other students ask

    follow-up questions about her weekend to show they‘ve been using active listening skills.

    The meeting ends with a ―telegraph‖ activity—students send a message around the circle

    using hand-squeezes. After finishing the activity they talk briefly about how messages can

    get distorted. During the meeting, students ―check themselves‖ to correct any inappropriate

    behavior, a primary means of classroom management. On several occasions, the teacher

    asks, ―Could you check yourself…‖ followed by various specifics, such as, ―to make sure

    you‘re sitting with your legs crossed like we agreed?‖ Throughout, the students are

    practicing a variety of skills and behaviorslistening, communicating effectively, showing

    respect for othersthat they‘ve learned through SEL lessons. Morning meetings are a way

    of life at Cossitt and a key to creating a caring community.

    ? Conflict resolution. On the playground during recess, some fourth-graders get into a

    conflict. One of them, a troubled child who lives with his family in a domestic violence shelter

    affiliated with the school, has been calling the others names and disrupting their game.

    Another student in the group approaches the boy and talks to him calmly. ―You don‘t have to

    be like that here,‖ he says. ―This is a caring place. We‘ll take care of you here.‖

? Graphic evidence of how SEL governs relationships within this community of

    learners. Every classroom features its own student-generated norms for discipline and

    behavior, ―Ways We Want Our Class to Be,‖ and rules for working with a partner in

    cooperative projects (―don‘t interrupt,‖ ―use nice words,‖ ―don‘t fool around,‖ ―do your share,‖

    ―don‘t moan and groan if you‘re not with your best friend‖). Other posters and student art

    work highlight values such as friendship, responsibility, respect, and kindness. You can read

    students‘ messages to each other: ―I believe in you.‖ ―I‘m glad you‘re you.‖ ―I trust you.‖

    ―You‘re important.‖ ―You‘re listened to.‖ ―You‘re cared for.‖ and ―Believe in yourself.‖ You‘ll

    also see photographs of the students with statements they‘ve written about things they like

    to doa way of promoting understanding and respect for others. In the hallways, you see

    evidence of ―buddy‖ activities between older and younger students, including graphs and

    charts comparing height, hair color, and other physical features of the buddy pairs, that

    promote awareness of and respect for others.


? Integrated SEL Programming. SEL and academic learning are integrated in a variety of

    ways. For every lesson, teachers develop both academic content objectives and SEL

    objectives. For example, literature and social studies lessons may focus on themes in

    stories or historical events that are related to SEL issues such as decision making,

    accepting responsibility for one‘s behavior, and showing caring and concern for others.

    Discussion of these themes often spills over into student writing and reflection. Likewise, in

    math and science, teachers create opportunities for students to work collaboratively and

    learn how to communicate and take responsibility. SEL is also integrated into activities

    outside the classroom. On a regular basis, children are given ―home-side‖ activities that ask

    them to engage a family member in an interactive assignment. The school runs a support

    group for students who have been affected by death or divorce. Art, music, and physical

    education class all incorporate SEL themes such as cooperation, empathy, and relationship


    ? Calm and orderly students: Two teachers are talking in the hallway. One is telling the

    other about a school trip the day before to the Art Institute in downtown Chicago. She

    reports proudly that she was stopped four times by people commenting on how impressed

    they were with the students they had never seen such an engaged group of kids

    interacting so well together. In general, teachers at Cossitt feel they have more time to

    dedicate to classroom instruction since SEL has taken hold at the school. Referrals to the

    office are virtually non existent and petty classroom disruptions are rare. Students often

    work out conflict amongst themselves, freeing the teachers up to focus on the important

    tasks of learning.

Looking Toward the Future

    For years, individual teachers, after-school program directors, coaches, and parent volunteers

    have endeavored to address children‘s social, emotional, and ethical development, without the

    kind of support and infrastructure afforded those in the Cossitt Elementary School community.

    Some have even faced active opposition from those who see such programming as too ―soft‖ or

    a waste of time. In fact, the attention and priority Cossitt has placed on SEL is the main reason

    for its success in creating a school community where children behave in caring and mutually

    supportive ways, so that students are safe to learn to the peak of their ability.

The Cossitt experience does not have to be unique. More and more people are beginning to

    recognize the importance of social and emotional development. At the state level, Illinois

    passed the Children‘s Mental Health Act in 2003 requiring the State Board of Education to

    develop SEL learning standards and all school districts to incorporate them into their

    educational plans. On a smaller scale, the strategies Cossitt uses can be applied in other

    school settings as well as non-school environments. For example, the concept of Morning

    Meeting can easily be translated into a ten-minute session at the beginning of sports practice,

    play rehearsal, or summer camp. Norms for behavior can be developed by any gathering of

    children and adults to create an atmosphere of respect and shared responsibility. Cooperative,

    team-building games and activities can take the place of competition. Even competition can be

    re-cast as competing to accomplish to one‘s highest potential (in which case a tough competitor

    is valued and respected) rather than to humiliate or destroy an opponent. Mentoring programs,

    sports camps, art and music programs, and after-school tutoring all offer opportunities to

    incorporate SEL, often at little or no additional costand only the extra effort required to be

    purposeful and deliberate about addressing social and emotional development for ethical and

    effective behavior. Cossitt offers an illustration of the impact SEL can have, both on the adults

    and the children, in a learning community. While the effects of SEL won‘t manifest themselves


overnight, it is time for more focused support of efforts to equip children with not only the

    academic skills they need to achieve success, but also the social and emotional competence to

    wield that knowledge responsibly, effectively, and ethically.


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     3 Zins, J., Weissberg, R., Wang, M., & Walberg, H. (Eds.). (2004). Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What the research says. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

     4 Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2003). Safe and sound: An educational leader’s guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs. Chicago: Author.

     5 Devaney, E., O‘Brien, M.U., Resnik, R., Keister, S., & Weissberg, R. (2005). Steps to Safe and Sound Schools: An implementation guide and tool kit for sustainable, school-wide social

    and emotional learning. Chicago: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

     6 Battistich,V., Schaps, E.,Watson, M.,& Solomon,D. (1996). Prevention effects of the Child

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     7 O‘Brien, M.U., & Murray, J.R. (2000, Spring). School environments, student life, and the child

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