This Made Me Roll My Eyes

There have been many, many articles I have read that caused an involuntary eye roll. This article has to be the first that I’ve felt compelled to address.

Education Week found a way to spin social-emotional learning into the government shutdown story.

Evie Blad wrote “Social-Emotional Learning for Senators: This Elementary School Exercise Helped End the Shutdown.”

U.S. Senator Sue Collins’ talking stick saved the day!

She wrote tying this into social-emotional learning:

The experience illustrates something school leaders have told Education Week in the past: It’s wrong to assume that adults have social-emotional learning all figured out. We all need help with skills like social-awareness and relationship skills, and some tools and scaffolding never hurt anybody. Many school leaders who’ve put social-emotional learning plans into place have later said they should have started with adults, like teachers, who are crucial for modeling respect and healthy interactions to students.

It’s amazing to me that these folks seem to believe that educators, youth workers, parents, etc. did not teach or model social skills like listening before.

No, this is a “new thing,” and even U.S. Senators are trying to figure it out!

“Now we need to wrap it up with a bow into a new fad.” Let’s “be intentional” about teaching it and let’s assess it as well!

She continues her consideration of the talking stick and how things like it can help the educational process:

But young students don’t always recognize how they communicate with body language and facial expressions. So some schools use the same kinds of “scaffolding” exercises when they teach listening as they do when they teach traditional academic subjects, like writing. That might be posters with sentence starters that help children reflect what they heard back to their peers, or objects like talking sticks to make the roles of speakers and listeners more deliberate.

A few years ago, I watched a group of fifth-grade students in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area known for gang violence and poverty, complete a listening circle. To help listening become more deliberate, their teacher had created a routine. First a classmate led them in some mindful breathing to “inhale the positive and exhale the negative.” Then they went around the circle answering questions from their teacher: What is something they’ve said or done that made someone happy? What’s something they’ve done that made someone hurt? How could they “set an intention” to fix it?

Mindful breathing? Is this a 5th-grade classroom or yoga class? Perhaps Senator Collins’ needs to introduce this into her meetings.

Look, I don’t have a problem with things like talking sticks. I’ve employed ideas like this myself as a youth pastor (and *shocker* I didn’t need training on social-emotional learning). Teaching kids to listen was the secondary outcome. The primary focus was discussing content I wanted them to grapple with.

That is where teachers’ focus should be as well. If teachers have an opportunity to model listening and find teaching moments when students are not listening well then great. What Senator Collins did was help her group not to talk over one another. Teachers (and anyone who has led meetings) have been doing that for years.

Ok, I need to stop rolling my eyes otherwise they will be permanently stuck there. Thanks for letting me rant.