Sunday, July 1, 2012

Promoting Social & Emotional Learning

I initially was attracted to this article because I am a strong believer in the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools, particularly at a young age.  My previous elementary school, Mathews Elementary, has always strived to place an emphasis on these skills and how important it is for students to develop socially in a safe environment that provides real world relevance.  Since entering this graduate program, I have had a heightened awareness to make both process and content observations in my classroom through their everyday activities that take place in group situations.
I didn’t agree with the statement that many teachers complain about SEL activities taking away from their academic/curricular goals.  I feel that it is very challenging to effectively teach if I do not create an environment where students feel safe to share their ideas and feelings.  By taking preventative measures to teach students how to work cooperatively, you actually add time spent working on academic goals while helping students build upon the skills they’ll need to function effectively in a social world.  The complaint might relate more to teachers feeling that their standards or expectations aren’t being met when working cooperatively with a counselor on a task-oriented project for their class.
I do agree that elementary school counselors do typically spend most of their time with only a small percentage of their population with difficulties or at risk for difficulties in a pull out approach, so it would be beneficial to reach more students by incorporating SEL strategies in the regular classroom.  However, the class size might become an issue.  With an average of twenty-five students in a class at my school, it would be difficult to circulate and adequately monitor these interactions in a meaningful way when there are five groups to attend to.  Even with the counselor and teacher working together, I’ve found that many of the teachers in my school that use cooperative and small group learning do not have the awareness or skills to help students “manage their emotions, effectively navigate their interactions, and successfully negotiate their differences for optimal SEL” (Van Velsor, 2009).  I agree that teachers and counselors must work closely together in order to achieve their goals, but I feel that teachers should also be trained in ways to build group cohesiveness through process observations, decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
Extending on this idea, although we’d like to believe that positive group experiences will change students in other arenas of life, the transfer of SEL skills is not always a guarantee.  Many factors influence if students will have success working in groups.  I have seen groups that work flawlessly together because of carefully selected group members, as well as groups that couldn’t function due to personality differences and leadership styles.  I have seen groups that work seamlessly in one classroom under the leadership of a teacher/counselor, only to falter in a different environment under the leadership of an adult that doesn’t model or expect the same guidelines.  Group experiences need to be set-up in a way that reap positive outcomes that help students grow and I think that incorporating SEL into academic activities is a step in the right direction to helping more students, but shouldn’t completely replace the time spent on specific populations that require more intensive guidance.

Van Velsor, P. (2009). Task groups in the school setting: Promoting children’s social and emotional learning. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 34 (3), 276-292.

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