Social-Emotional Learning: Emotional Intelligence in Schools
Social interaction and emotional learning seem to go hand in hand. Children learn to deal with socially “awkward” situations and emotional regulation as well as the ability to let others know how their actions are making them feel from experience and observation.
The New York Times reports on a new method of teaching that’s gaining momentum in schools across the nation. Many schools have begun using the social-emotional learning strategy with the idea that emotional skills play a crucial part in academic performance.
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has grown support in recent years especially in response to the growth of school violence and bullying.
“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn,” Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, told a crowd of educators. “They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?”
The theory that kids need to learn to manage their emotions in order to reach their potential originally came from research by a pair of psychology professors — John Mayer, at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, from Yale. While outlining the set of skills that defined “emotional intelligence,” Salovey realized that it might be even more influential than he had originally suspected, affecting everything from problem solving to job satisfaction: “It was like, this is predictive!”
However, finding ways to measure emotional awareness — never mind its effects — is tricky. It’s also still unclear whether S.E.L. programs create the kind of deep and lasting change they aspire to.
A few schools that implement this style of education are Leataata Floyd Elementary, a school in a low-income part of Sacramento, Garfield Elementary in Oakland and Prospect Sierra in the Berkeley Hills.
There are several dozen programs that offer learning tools and education on social-emotional learning that have been approved as “evidence-based” by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a Chicago-based nonprofit.
Billy Aydlett, a teacher from Leataata Floyd Elementary School in Sacramento commented, “What we discovered was that these kids weren’t going to be able to make progress on the academics until they’d gotten help with their social and emotional issues.”
Some techniques taught are “self talk”, counting to five, Dragon Breaths (a form of deep breathing exercise) and a reappraisal known as “reframing”.
In the adult world “reframing” is a valuable skill, coloring how we interpret events and handle their emotional content. For instance, does a casual remark from an acquaintance get cataloged as a criticism and obsessed over? Or is it reconsidered and dismissed as unintentional?
Marc Brackett, researcher and creator of one social-emotional learning course coined “Ruler”, envisions a generation of kids who have grown up immersed in an environment of total emotional awareness — who receive new insights at the developmentally appropriate times, and in deliberately constructive ways.
He noted, “If you have that kind of instruction, from kindergarten, I think that in 20 years the world will be a very different place.”