From Our Executive Director, Jacqueline Hicks (June 2017 Newsletter):

Finally, there is recognition among educational researchers and proponents of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), that in order to reach students with regard to SEL, you must teach the teachers first. The following link goes to an extensive research report that verifies what I have long felt is true.

In the field of education, the importance of students acquiring Social and Emotional Competency is now almost universally recognized. The above referenced report shows that across the nation, most state departments of education are attempting to adhere to a set of standards for desired results, even including some attention on teacher preparation for teaching SEL to students. Some states are doing more than others, but none are adequately preparing teachers for the important task of developing social emotional competency in their students. Yet teachers are still required to find a way to develop these competencies in their students. The competencies generally agreed upon are identified by CASEL (Collaborative of Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) as Self-Awareness, Self- Management, Responsible Decision-making, Relationship Skills, and Social-Awareness. I like to also include Leadership Skills.

The report reveals that of the 5-6 competencies, the least addressed dimensions of teachers’ SEL competencies in the state training programs are: self-awareness and self-management. Not surprisingly, those were also given the least attention by teachers in developing their students’ SEL competencies. Self-awareness is defined as the ability to recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.” Self-management is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors in different situations—effectively managing stress, controlling one’s impulses, motivating oneself, and the ability to set and work toward personal and academic or professional goals.

Self-awareness and managing emotions are necessary competencies of our normal life requirements for handling conflicts, building relationships, and developing communication skills. Unfortunately, the teacher-credentialing courses that are addressing SEL competencies are still largely lecture and discussion based intellectual exercises of techniques and strategies. Intellectual exercises and discussions can only go so far. Teachers aren’t learning how to increase their own self-awareness or how to deal with difficult emotions once triggered. This leads increasingly to stress and burnout among teachers, and we are losing some of our brightest. For myself, I no longer get triggered by students or parents, but I struggle sometimes with colleagues, and find judgmental or defensive behavior showing up.

The report recommendations stated:

  1. A necessary prerequisite for incorporating domains of SEL into pre-service education is having a cadre of teacher educators and classroom supervisors with the necessary SEL knowledge and skills. Thus, colleges and faculties of education need to hire new personnel with the required expertise and provide professional development for their current faculty in this area.
  1. Relatedly, during their student teaching experience, teacher candidates need to be placed in classrooms with teachers with expertise in the knowledge and implementation of SEL, so that teacher candidates can have first-hand experience in observing and then implementing SEL.

In a recent meeting at Future Fit LEAP for Education, I heard some graduating high school seniors speak on how they felt about their education. They were there not just representing themselves, but also their fellow students. Nothing they shared was surprising to me, but one thing they articulated was that they felt their education left them somewhat to very unprepared for college and career with regards to many basic life skills. They wanted to learn communication skills, adaptability, and how to deal with failure: in other words, Social Emotional Learning competencies. In many ways they felt short changed and concerned for their generation, and so did I.

I wholeheartedly agree with the report recommendations, but have serious concerns about how long it will take for them to become part of pre-service teacher education, as well as how we will support those currently responsible for teaching students what they themselves have not been taught. Clearly, the research is showing what I’ve long felt is necessary to support teachers achieving success and satisfaction in their jobs, which is why I started Education Transformations in the first place. I hope we can be a positive force in moving these research recommendations forward.

What do you think?