New Study Finds Multiple Problems with Push for Social-Emotional Learning in K-12 Education

Press Release

Little research evidence for, or objective, reliable way to measure SEL’s efficacy; raises significant concerns about student health and privacy

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.55.27 AM

BOSTON – Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been billed as a transformational tool that will propel students to greater academic achievement and personal fulfillment.  Unfortunately, as a new Pioneer Institute study makes clear, the research evidence to back up these claims is thin and unpersuasive. Moreover, the risks SEL poses to student privacy and health are significant.

Proponents of SEL call for focusing less on academic content and knowledge in schools, and more on student attributes, mindsets, values, and behaviors.  Not only are the goals of SEL ill-defined, but they also raise significant, unanswered questions about what attitudes should be promoted.

“It’s one thing to direct your own moral, ethical, and emotional development or that of your children,” said Jane Robbins, co-author of “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State.”  “But having a government vendor or unqualified public school officials implement an SEL curriculum based on coffee-table psychology is quite another.”

Video: Authors of New Pioneer Report Discuss Social-Emotional Learning

Educational software developers purport to have created products that can determine a number of sensitive personality traits through students’ interaction with digital platforms.  Much of this monitoring occurs without the consent of children or their parents. Some software — especially for video gaming — goes beyond assessing traits, and aims to encourage the production of students who are well suited for a workforce development-centered education.

“This technology, when coupled with SEL, will further spread the recent wave of amateur, unqualified psychoanalysis in schools,” said Dr. Karen Effrem, M.D., who co-authored the study with Robbins. “Given the uncertainty around diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional problems, even by highly trained physicians, the SEL movement runs the risk of further increasing the trend toward dangerous over-diagnosis and over-medication of American schoolchildren.”

Social-emotional learning is being interwoven into the Common Core State Standards and school efforts to implement competency-based education (CBE). CBE digitally documents the attainment of various skills with the goal of demonstrating that a student is ready to move on in his or her “personalized learning path.”  SEL and CBE are heavily weighted toward a conception of education as focused on workforce development rather than preparing active, informed citizens.

Nationally, in 2018, federal, state, and local governments invested more than $30 billion annually to implement SEL in K-12 public schools. The level of expenditure is surprising considering tight public school budgets and the lack of any reliable, objective, researched-based method to measure or assess a student’s personality, values, and mindsets as SEL proponents admit.

Researcher and standards analyst Robbins and Dr. Effrem, a pediatric medical doctor, call for ending taxpayer-funded implementation and expansion of SEL assessments, standards, and other programs in public schools.

The paper also features a foreword by Dr. Kevin Ryan, founder and director emeritus of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility, formerly known as the Center for Advancement of Ethics and Character, at the Boston University School of Education.

In place of SEL, the co-authors urge educators to refocus on a key lever that led to Massachusetts’ rise to the highest-performing K-12 state in the nation — genuine academic achievement through state and locally developed standards, assessments, and curricula — rather than classroom content of dubious academic value based on pop psychology.

About the Authors

Karen Effrem, M.D. is president of Education Liberty Watch and executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. She also serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and on the board of the Alliance for Human Research Protection. Dr. Effrem’s undergraduate degree is in pharmacy from Purdue University, her medical degree is from Johns Hopkins University, and her pediatric training is from the University of Minnesota. She has provided testimony and analysis on children’s education and health issues for Congress, numerous state legislatures, and for a federal lawsuit regarding unconsented mental screening. She has been interviewed by many local and national media outlets. Her writing on these topics has appeared in The Federalist,, The American Spectator, and Truth in American Education, among others.

Jane Robbins, J.D. is an attorney and independent researcher. She has written extensively about the deficiencies of progressive education and the Common Core, and about threats to student and family privacy posed by government policies such as training students with technology. She has testified about these issues before the legislatures of 12 states and the U.S. Congress. Jane earned an undergraduate degree from Clemson University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Kevin Ryan, Ph.D. is an emeritus professor of education at Boston University. He is the founder and director emeritus of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility. He is a former high-school English teacher and taught on the faculties of Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Ohio State University, and the University of Lisbon. Dr. Ryan was appointed to the Pontifical Academy for the Social Sciences by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He has authored and edited 22 books, primarily on moral education and the education of teachers, and written over 100 articles.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

SEL Assessment Dialogue Avoids the Obvious Question

District Administration Magazine included an article on its website last week entitled “SEL Check-ups At School.” Education Dive also published a brief based on the article entitled “Schools explore the best ways to gauge SEL skills.” There is an ongoing conversation about how social-emotional learning (SEL) skills can be assessed.

There are three primary SEL assessment tools schools are using mentioned in the District Administration Magazine by Victoria Clayton that are summarized by Amelia Harper at Education Dive:

Three current options are the Devereux Students Strengths Assessment, which is emerging as a leader in SEL assessment; Panorama’s assessment, which offers more student voice in the process; and a free, open-source option called Social and Emotional Competency Assessments, which was created by the Washoe County School District in Nevada.

She later writes:

SEL assessments also offer valuable feedback to teachers that allow them to craft their own responses to students in better ways. Schools can use the information to determine what changes need to be made to SEL programs or the ways they are implemented. And parents are often interested in the information as well so they can support their children’s social-emotional development at home. 

Clayton in her article at District Administration Magazine points out the silent data that can be captured through SEL assessments:

The SEL assessments are often coupled with school climate surveys, which offer the children an opportunity to tell adults where there may be culture or safety issues at school. “Our SEL assessment became this great way for our schools to incorporate that piece—student voice—into the decision-making for a school,” says Korene Horibata, district educational specialist.

In Kansas, leaders at Olathe Public Schools (29,600 students) chose Panorama to align SEL with Kansas Can, a statewide education initiative that calls for students to express themselves. Results indicated that most Olathe students felt strong in social awareness but shaky about grit and perseverance.

This has changed the way teachers engage with students, Assistant Superintendent Jessica Dain says. During regular instruction, teachers now guide students on overcoming challenges or successfully completing assignments when they feel overwhelmed or uncertain.

“Most importantly, it provides what I call ‘silent data’—the information that would typically go unmeasured and unsupported in the classroom,” Dain says.

Both authors discuss how schools should assess SEL, why they should assess SEL, but nowhere in this discussion is any voice of caution over whether schools should. 

This is classic group think mentality and why most education reforms have failed. Everybody jumps on the “brand new thing,” advocates it, boxes out any dissent, and moves forward without any data backing it up.

No one is asking the question, is this really what schools should focus their time on when they are struggling to teach core subjects? Also, is there any concern about student privacy?

No one in mainstream education policy circles or journalists writing about education seems to ask these types of questions.

ACT to Develop a Standardized Morals Assessment

Photo Credit: Stephen Mally/The Cedar Rapids Gazette

ACT announced last week that they won a contract to provide a standardized assessment for a moral education program for students in the United Arab Emirates called the Moral Education Standardized Assessment (MESA).

In their press release, they state they will leverage the expertise of its US-based research and test development teams to create the assessment, which will also utilize the latest theory and principles of social and emotional learning (SEL) throughout the development process. 

“We are thrilled to be supporting a holistic approach to student success,” ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe said. “We know that social and emotional learning skills are crucial to success in school and life and these skills can be taught and developed over time. With their learning and measurement expertise, our teams will create a world-class assessment that measures UAE student readiness, so teachers can more effectively foster the shared cultural values across UAE’s diverse communities.”

“Moral Education is an innovative, engaging curriculum designed to develop young people of all nationalities and ages in the UAE with universal principles and values that reflect the shared experiences of humanity,” Mohammed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, the Director of the Education Affairs Office at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said. “The curriculum was introduced in the UAE in 2017 in an initiative from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Through the MESA, we plan to assess the impact of Moral Education over time in an independent and standardized manner. Beyond testing the students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts, we aim to measure their awareness of the character traits and values underpinning the Moral Education Program.”

The UAE’s Moral Education program builds upon these four “pillars”:

Character & Morality: “The character and morality curriculum is centred around developing each student as honest, tolerant, resilient and persevering individuals.”

Individual & Community: “A true citizen is one that takes care of themselves in addition to caring about the good of society and participating actively to make things better.”

Civic Studies: “Whether a student was born in the UAE or moved here with their family, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of how the UAE was formed and how it is governed today.”

Cultural Studies: “Culture is an inherent part of a society and the program wants to highlight UAE’s shared human culture that encapsulates the traditions and symbols that help define who we are.”

While the UAE is certainly more “tolerant” than some of their neighbors, they are not exactly a bastion of freedom and religious tolerance. 

This kind of assessment also begs the question: whose morals will be taught and assessed? 

So why am I writing about a morality assessment that will be used in the UAE at Truth in American Education? Peter Greene in his piece at Forbes made the following point:

It would be easy to pass this course and test off as an exercise in futility, except for a couple of things. First, the test will likely be digital, and therefore captured as more data for the test taker’s personal permanent file. Second, while the program is being piloted for UAE, once ACT has it built, they’re sure to want to market it other places as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the standardized morality test at a school near you.

Look for ACT to bring this test home once they have their test bank items developed. 

Responding to The 74 Jumping on the Social-Emotional Learning Bandwagon

An education news organization called The 74 (heavily funded by the Gates Foundation) recently jumped on the bandwagon for so-called social-emotional learning (SEL). This supposedly objective news source found little reason for skepticism about implementing SEL, as long as teachers are given sufficient resources and guidance. But such cheerleading masks deep concerns about whether schools should be manipulating students’ personalities via SEL. 

A brief response to The 74:

  • The 74 defines SEL as “teaching students skills such as self-regulation, persistence, empathy, self-awareness, and mindfulness” but admits that different research and media entities define SEL differently. This disagreement complicates SEL implementation and research/assessment, as evidenced in contradictory statements by The 74 and many other SEL proponents. As one researcher for CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) stated in a 2017 meta-analysis, “We know these skills are essential for children…” Yet in the same sentence, she said, “but there’s still a lot we don’t know about ways to enhance them.”
  • However SEL is defined, The 74 thinks this is what schools should be doing. But parents rightly object that the school (which means the government) has no business analyzing and trying to change a child’s psychological makeup. It’s one thing to enforce discipline in a classroom and encourage individual students to do their best; good teachers have always done that. It’s quite another to assess students on their compliance with highly subjective behavioral standards that may measure personality and individual or family beliefs more than objective shortcomings in performance. The school exists to assist parents in educating their children, not to replace them in that role. 
  • The 74 traces the concept of SEL back to the 1995 book Emotional Intelligence (which the news outlet apparently takes seriously). In fact, “emotional intelligence” has been debunked as “a fraudulent concept, a fad, a convenient bandwagon, a corporate marketing scheme.” SEL first entered the federal education lexicon in 1994 as part of the Goals 2000 legislation signed by President Clinton. These goals were “voluntary” as long as states were willing to give up their share of federal Title I money for not implementing them. This is analogous to recession-racked states’ “voluntarily” adopting the Common Core standards to qualify for federal money. 
  • Interestingly, research in a paper cited by The 74, as well as multiple other SEL proponents and education stakeholders, posits that the supposedly “rigorous” and “academic” Common Core supports  SEL and vice versa. The fact that Common Core is proving to be a drag on academic achievement demonstrates that neither is very effective. Besides seeing both SEL and Common Core as anti-academic, parents and citizens also recognize both as invasive and indoctrinating — so touting the SEL-Common Core connection is unlikely to engender support for either one.  
  • The 74 cites only studies supportive of SEL. But even the aforementioned CASEL researcher admitted, “The results to date have been mixed…There’s also a general lack of long-term studies that might give researchers a clearer picture of the programs’ effectiveness.” In fact, The 74 ignores glaring defects of the first meta-analysis it links — that only 15% of the 200+ studies reviewed did a long-term follow-up, and only 16% actually checked academic outcomes. The 74 also neglects to mention a decidedly negative analysis of preschool SEL in six longitudinal education databases, which concluded, “Early math skills have the greatest predictive power, followed by reading and then attention skills. By contrast, measures of socioemotional behaviors…were generally insignificant predictors of later academic performance, even among children with relatively high levels of problem behavior.” Ironically, the preschool years have the most uniform, numerous, and longstanding SEL standards in all fifty states. Yet this study, combined with a new Brookings paper, affirms much previous research showing that SEL-laden Head Start and other government preschool programs don’t improve academic outcomes. Nor does “growth mindset” (an SEL favorite), as confirmed by another recent study. 
  • The 74 also touts a paper claiming economic benefit from SEL interventions. But the paper’s authors emphasized that the SEL interventions they analyzed “are not representative of SEL generally,” and that the protocols and methods they used are racked with “deficiencies.” If there is any real economic benefit from SEL, this study doesn’t show it.
  • Turning to student SEL assessment, The 74 does admit that deciding whether SEL is working, or whether individual students are reshaping their personalities to the government’s satisfaction, is a tricky business. Only 17% of principals “know which assessments to use for measuring how their students are doing socially and emotionally,” especially since most states don’t have clear SEL standards or grade-by-grade benchmarks. But The 74 doesn’t report that even SEL gurus admit that meaningful assessment is at best problematic. This is because, among other factors, teachers aren’t mental-health professionals capable of assessing children and because, in any event, the assessment mechanisms usually depend on unreliable inputs (such as student self-reports). 
  • Speaking further of assessment, The 74 doesn’t mention the serious problem of placing all these unreliable, amateur psychological assessments into the longitudinal data system that will follow students, potentially, throughout their lives. Might employers or colleges or government agencies be interested in accessing records about a particular individual’s psychological makeup? 
  • The 74 approvingly links SEL to schools’ implementation of “restorative justice” in place of “punitive disciplinary practices.” The news outlet seems oddly oblivious to the controversy surrounding restorative justice. Many teachers across the country are rebelling against restrictions on their ability to discipline unruly kids, and such policies can have tragic consequences if criminal offenders are allowed to remain in schools. 
  • The 74 seems to endorse “deep breathing, counting, and mindfulness” for helping students improve their relationships with teachers. There is no acknowledgment that many parents would object to a school’s leading their children through such pseudo-spiritual practices. 
  • Prominent thought leaders in the teaching profession, even SEL proponents, are questioning whether SEL can be formally taught and standardized, as well the wisdom of burdening teachers with another responsibility for which they aren’t trained. (See here and here.) 

The bottom line is that SEL is far more subjective and invasive, and far less effective, than proponents claim. Maybe The 74 should take another look.

Yet Another Billionaire Philanthropist To The Rescue!

T. Denny Sanford

Last week, Long Island Business News reported that yet another billionaire philanthropist will be throwing more money at what ails K-12 education, this time focusing on social-emotional learning.

Adina Genn reporting for the publication wrote:

Billionaire T. Denny Sanford visited a Rockville Centre elementary school Wednesday to announce that he is donating $100 million to promote social emotional learning in schools across the country.

The South Dakota entrepreneur and philanthropist is giving the money to the National University System, a nonprofit that focuses on education and philanthropy initiatives. Through this funding, Sanford is expanding the Sanford Harmony social emotional learning program, which enables children nationwide to embrace diversity, inclusion, empathy and critical thinking, communication, problem-solving and peer relationships.

The program is already in its fourth year at William S. Covert Elementary School, where Sanford was a special guest in Meryl Goodman’s second-grade class. There, students shared ideas about collaboration, respect and acceptance through storytelling, song and discussion.

Thanking the students, Sanford told them that they were “wonderful, wonderful kids.”

Sanford told LIBN that the morning was a “culmination of all of everyone’s efforts – not just me, but all the teachers and school district to make this work.”

Sanford based the program on a need he saw to develop strong social and emotional skills in children that they can incorporate in and outside of school as well as into adulthood.

Oh goody. Please stop. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise as we recently learned that it will be impossible to educate our kids without social-emotional learning.

As a reminder here’s a running list of concerns that we have with SEL that J.R. Wilson provided back in February. This trend is not worth throwing money it and it is just another dataless reform.

  • Social emotional learning (SEL) standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments address subjective non-cognitive factors.
  • Subjective non-cognitive factors addressed in SEL programs may include attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, beliefs, feelings, emotions, mindsets, metacognitive learning skills, motivation, grit, self-regulation, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, and intrapersonal resources even though programs may use different terminology.
  • The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to promote or develop social emotional standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs or assessments.
  • Promoting and implementing formal SEL program standards, benchmarks, learning indicators and assessments will depersonalize the informal education good teachers have always provided.
  • Teachers implementing SEL standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments may end up taking on the role of mental health therapists for which they are not professionally trained. SEL programs should require the onsite supervision of adequately trained professional psychologists/psychotherapists.
  • Social and emotional learning programs take time away from academic knowledge and fundamental skills instruction.
  • SEL programs may promote and establish thoughts, values, beliefs, and attitudes not reflective of those held by parents and infringe upon parental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
  • Informed active written parental consent should be required prior to any student participating in any social-emotional learning program or assessment through the school system.
  • Sensitive personally identifiable non-cognitive data will be collected on individuals through SEL programs.
  • The collection and use of subjective non-cognitive individual student SEL data may result in improper labeling of students. This data will follow individuals throughout their lifetime with the potential for unintended use resulting in negative consequences.
  • Concerns have been expressed that SEL programs and collected data may potentially be misused with a captive and vulnerable audience for indoctrination, social and emotional engineering, to influence compliance, and to predict future behavior.

Mr. Sanford would be better off investing his money in education methods that work instead of foisting his version of education reform onto the rest of us.

Read the rest.

Gasp! How Will We Educate Without Social-Emotional Learning?

EdSurge has an obnoxious piece of Social-Emotional Learning propaganda up. The article is not quite as desperate as the headline would lead you to believe – “The Future of Education Depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here’s Why.”

It did capture my attention.

Gasp! How will kids learn without social-emotional learning?

*Choke.* How will teachers teach?

Giancarlo Brotto whose bio says “has more than 20 years experience working in education technology in K-12 and university environments. His areas of expertise include education policy, classroom practice, training and professional development, education research and technology implementation. As SMART’s Global Education Strategist, Giancarlo engages with thought leaders, researchers, and policy organizations to gain further insight on trends in the K-12 education space.”

He writes:

Social and emotional abilities are said to be indicators of how well a person adjusts to his or her environment, adapts to change and, ultimately, how successful she or he will be in life. In fact, core development abilities such as conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, and agreeableness can be as or even more important than cognitive intelligence in determining future employment. Despite these competencies being related to consequential life outcomes, it can be challenging for educators to find effective ways to prioritize, teach and assess social and emotional skills.

Developing these core life abilities through social and emotional learning (SEL) is critical to a child’s development, as it directly correlates to success and happiness as an adult. For many children, school is the only place where any deficiencies in these abilities can be addressed before they become active members of society.

Combining these skills with academic development creates high-quality learning experiences and environments that empower students to be more effective contributors in their classrooms today and in their workplaces and communities tomorrow.

HIs evidence? Two reports that are written by CASEL (an organization whose purpose is to advocate for social-emotional learning) and one report from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED).

What his article is truly evidence of is the echo chamber that exists among education reformers.

Group Therapy Comes to School

NPR has a story on group therapy that is now offered at Cresthaven Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md. that they say is one of several schools that now offer students “training in how to manage emotions, handle stress and improve interpersonal relationships.”

This is social-emotional learning on steroids.

An excerpt:

At Cresthaven, some fifth-graders like B. get an intensive 12 weeks of such training, a course called the Resilience Builder Program. Created by psychologist Mary Alvord, it’s a form of group therapy designed to help students who are struggling with trauma or cognitive disorders — or everyday anxiety caused by things like bullying or moving schools..

“I think it’s so critical that kids know they have the power to make changes. While we can’t control everything about our lives, we can control many facets,” Alvord says.

If students can learn this kind of resilience, the ability to adapt to emotional challenges, she says, “I think the whole world gets better.”

Alvord offered the program to Cresthaven on a pro-bono basis.

When Alvord offered to bring the Resilience Builder Program to Cresthaven pro bono as part of a research project, Sklias selected a group of students she thought could benefit from it. It has been used especially with students dealing with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or anxiety or trauma — officially, students with “social competence deficits.” She met with parents, and many agreed to sign up their kids.

Not quite out of the goodness of her heart, the students who now participate are now part of a research project. Also, while the school did the group recruitment and did get parental consent for student participation, one has to wonder how much data on students’ social competencies did the principal have to access before recruiting students. Was that data collected with parental consent?

I’m sure there are lots of students who can benefit from group therapy, especially those dealing with trauma, but this is just another example of schools expanding beyond their primary mandate to educate students on academic subjects.

Read the whole article.

A Dataless Report on Social-Emotional Learning

The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development with The Aspen Institute released a report in March entitled “The Practice Base For How We Learn: Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development” which is a “Consensus Statements of Practice from the Council of Distinguished Educators.” (AKA propaganda)

What struck me as I read through this is that it lacks footnotes and references. It lacks any mention of studies done. The only “data’ mentioned is another statement out of The Aspen Institute.

You’d think they would at least give lip service to being evidence-based.

They say the research is coming.

You can read it below. Let us know what you think of the report by leaving a comment.


Pearson’s “Social-Psychological” Experiment Should Make Us Wary

Screenshot of the MyLab Program from YouTube.

Education Week reported that Pearson recently tested ‘social-psychological’ messages in their learning software on unwitting college students with “mixed results” and the privacy implications of this should make us wary.

Pearson presented a paper entitled “Embedding Research-Inspired Innovations in EdTech: An RCT of Social-Psychological Interventions, at Scale” at the annual conference of the American Association of Educational Research.

The experiment included over 9,000 students at 165 two-year community colleges and four-year universities in the United States. The students who used the MyLab Program were divided into three groups. One group received “growth-mindset” messages (stressing the importance of effort and building skills over time), another group received “anchoring of effect messages” (ex. “Some students tried this question 26 times! Don’t worry if it takes you a few tries to get it right.”), and the third group was the control group who received no messages.

Pearson then randomly assigned different colleges to use different versions of the software. They tracked whether students who received the messages attempted and completed more problems than those who did not.

The experiment appears to prove the opposite of what they had thought to be true. Those students who did not receive any messages attempted more problems (212 problems) than students who received a “growth-mindset” message (178 problems), and those who received an “anchoring of effect” message (156 problems).

There are already significant privacy concerns with learning software and other ed tech tools. Gizmodo pointed out overlap one of the privacy issues with Facebook, namely, the criticism they received after experimenting on 700,000 users in 2014 by changing what they saw in their newsfeeds and then recording the impact on their moods.

Pearson’s paper was not without critics. Ben Williamson, who studies big data in education and lectures at the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom told Education Week that there is little evidence that mindset-based inventions will help students. He also pointed out public anxiety over how different companies collect data and use it for psychological profiling and troubling.

Williamson also noted, and I agree, that it is extremely troubling that Pearson did not seek informed consent from students who were the subjects of this experiment.

“It’s concerning that forms of low-level psychological experimentation to trigger certain behaviors appears to be happening in the ed-tech sector, and students might not know those experiments are taking place,” Williamson told Education Week.

Even though Pearson’s experiment backfired, Education Week notes that the idea of placing these messages in education software is “gaining steam.”

Parents take note.

Social-Emotional Learning for Educators?

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

I wanted to follow-up J.R.’s piece yesterday on social-emotional learning after seeing this article on the U.S. Department of Education’s blog – “Educator Self-Care Is Social Emotional Learning.”

This week is National School Counseling Week (I wasn’t aware) so they had a guest article from Christy Lynn Anana, a nationally board-certified school counselor and registered yoga teacher, who was Washington State’s School Counselor of the Year in 2016.

She writes:

As a school counselor, I help teachers understand the most important thing they can do for children is to keep their own mood stable. When I come into their classrooms to teach students about breathing strategies, mindfulness, yoga and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), it is not just for the students but also to offer time for teachers to connect with their own breath.

Addressing our own “caught-upness” and keeping our own mood stable

Emotional awareness, empathy, anger/anxiety management and problem solving are the backbone skills that make up Social Emotional Learning. These are highly honed skills that educators use every day and every minute. When teachers and educators embody compassionate strategies like breathing, stretching and tapping, they increase their capacity and provide safe haven for students to practice these skills.

We can be curious about a child’s behavior. What is the child trying to communicate? We can always pair our curiosity with compassion. There have been times I have felt the same way. How can we serve to help the child communicate his/her feelings more effectively without getting “caught up” in the behavior?

Can we be kind to ourselves when we do get “caught up”?

Neuroplasticity and hope

When educators feel like they belong in a safe, inclusive, and positive school, they are able to structure an environment where students feel safe, included and hopeful about their futures. This is the foundation for emotionally healthy youth and providing a culturally responsive and trauma sensitive world.

SEL proponents believe Members of Congress need social-emotional learning, and, no surprise, they feel the same about educators.

I’d love to talk about the exercises she does with students in classes in her school because, frankly, they are rooted in eastern religious tradition (just doing yoga stretches and exercises in gym class is one thing, but pairing them with meditation and “mindfulness” exercises in an academic classroom is another). Some people flip out when prayer at school is discussed, but they allow this?

But, I digress.

Back to the educators, as a person who worked with youth including high-risk youth for 20 years, I knew the importance of taking care of myself (not to say I always did a good job of doing that). This is not new. If you don’t, it’s easy to burn-out. The same is true with teachers. We need to get enough sleep, exercise, eat right, and learn what helps us reduce stress.

This is common sense and common knowledge. We don’t need to wrap it up in the social-emotional learning lingo and have it promoted on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.