Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Our children are called to order by the insistent bells of Education. Each morning we watch them go and hope. We hope they are engaged and motivated, that their teachers are invested and caring, that they don’t become involved with the “wrong” crowd. We hope apathy and disconnection don’t creep in. We hope we don’t lose them.

We hope because what else can we do.

What we know of our child’s school life comes from dry report cards, the briefest of parent/teacher conferences and grades and test scores continuously charting academic standing. All false indicators of well-being. But what we really know is that school is filled with as much risk as luck and a good education is not guaranteed anywhere.

There is something wrong, something missing, in schools today. Parents know it. Teachers know it. Obama knows it. But most significantly, our children know it.

School is a full-time, no-option-to-leave job that lasts 12 years – at least. Still, up to one-third of disgruntled students end up dropping out to solve the problem of non-workable school (and life) conditions. As adults, working for any length of time in a job that does not validate or feed you intellectually, emotionally or socially would be misery – the kind of job too many Americans suffer through because of their own school experiences.

When rethinking our present day educational system, let’s once and for all integrate the social and emotional aspects of learning alongside the cognitive work of development. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (1902-1994), who coined the phrase “identity crisis,” offered that each developmental stage presents tasks that must be worked through before moving successfully on to the next stage of development. These tasks are social and emotional as well as cognitive.

The task of adolescence is identity formation, the often challenging, lifelong journey of crafting an identity.

What happens when the “who am I?” question of identity is neglected? Statistics tell us that one in five children suffer from mental, behavioral or emotional problems and that one in eight suffer from depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death of people aged 15-24, and the fourth leading cause of death of children between the ages of 10-14.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) in school offers time, place and opportunity for students to do the work of identity formation. Students explore, discover and reflect on what it means to be them in relation to others. SEL builds interpersonal (awareness of other’s feelings) as well as intrapersonal (self-awareness) skills. SEL programs are springing up in limited ways in some schools around the country. These programs, mostly for grades K-6th, range from after-school social skills learning to morning circle to in-school curriculum-based learning.

Why are there little or no SEL programs in middle and high schools today when it clearly is instrumental to healthy, rounded development?

The impact of I.Q. testing on education, developed in the early 20th century is profound and reverberates through our entire educational system. We have designed a system of learning that is centered on the “logical/mathematical and linguistic” intelligences, a system that almost wholly disregards the social and emotional dimensions of creating a self. Measuring intelligence means schools teach to tests that measure measurable intelligence. It is a vicious cycle that excludes meeting and serving the “other” needs and intelligences of our students.

Scientifically measuring intelligence (I.Q. testing) was developed in response to managing and tracking a rapidly expanding nation. Intelligence testing became the standard way of managing and tracking our children, unfortunately at the exclusion of all else. It seems we no longer can see our children without it.

The goal of education should be to unlock potential, not to limit it. We have little choice but to trust our schools to care for our children. We hope good teachers will witness and cultivate their unique potential both academically and as developing human beings. But the sad reality is that schools are not set up to tend to the whole child and good attention to the social and emotional aspects of development is left to chance and luck.

As a result, the non-cognitive potential of our children, their feeling, creative, intuitive dimensions are rendered invisible in a system that sees them exclusively through the lens of quantitative assessments, tests and grades. Huge portions of our children’s selves are seemingly not worth validating because they are not measurable or track-able. Yet building a system that honors the whole thinking, feeling, and creative individuating person is the change we desperately need in American education.

When we honor and engage the whole child we promote real growth that leads to academic achievement and well-being. The most recent findings show that student attitudes, behaviors and performance are improved with SEL in the school setting because students who are connected to self and others are more engaged in their own learning. By neglecting the essential work children and adolescents are developmentally charged to do, we devalue their primal drive to know and make sense of themselves and their world. When we place SEL in equal partnership with cognitive learning, we can graduate creative, inspired individuals who reach beyond themselves into a world of their own possibility.

We need to help our children become – fully – themselves, not what we want them to be. To do that we need to integrate SEL into the daily life of Education so we no longer leave our childrens’ development to luck and chance but to careful, thoughtful attention.


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As psychologists have noted, and parents can tell you first-hand, adolescence is known to be a confusing time marked by experimentation with new ways of being.

Exploring the “who am I?” question is an important part of your child’s development. This is a challenge considering that education today is decidedly cognitive, and does not instructively take on the social and emotional demands of adolescent development. As a result, parents are ultimately responsible for their child’s social and emotional education, the “heart” work of development. And all that at a time when adolescents are trying to create their own identity separate from their parents.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the conscious building of interpersonal (awareness of other’s feelings) and intrapersonal (self-awareness) intelligences necessary for living an effective, engaged life. How can parents support their child’s social and emotional growth? Here are eight tips that support adolescent SEL at home and strengthen the changing parent/child relationship:

1. Active Listening – How a parent listens to an adolescent child can positively aid in the work of identity formation. Parents help their children explore the “who am I?” question of adolescence by listening without judgment or fear. Listening with an open heart helps adolescents make sense of their world and their changing selves as they begin the process of taking responsibility for who they are at that moment and who they want to be.

2. Self-Reflection – Where does self-reflection, the foundation of self-knowledge, fit into an adolescent’s busy schedule? Parents can promote this critical developmental need at home in creative ways – conversation around the dinner table or even watching a movie together. Self-reflection needs time to develop and practice to come naturally.

3. Model Authenticity – Adolescents are keen observers of human behavior, especially of their parent’s behavior. They constantly question truth and reality as they experiment with new ways of being. Parents support their child’s search for emotional courage and honesty by living it themselves – or at least by putting ones best effort forward. A good starting place for parents is to not pretend to have all the answers.

4. Promote Creativity – The adolescent work of creating an identity means stepping into the unknown. Like artists, adolescents enter an empty canvas and experiment with colors and materials as a way to accept or reject new ways of being. Creativity gives adolescents freedom to experiment and create themselves in safe and constructive ways. This can be achieved through art, writing, dance, sports, clothing, theatre and music. Parents validate their child’s creative endeavors when expressing their own curiosity with real questions and interest.

5. Celebrate Mistakes – Mistakes mean your child is taking risks and ultimately learning from their experiences. Mistakes are an essential part of growing. Physicist David Bohm writes: “From early childhood, one is taught to maintain the image of “self” or “ego” as essentially perfect. Each mistake seems to reveal that one is an inferior sort of being, who will therefore, in some way, not be fully accepted by others.” This is unfortunate because “all learning is trying something and seeing what happens.”

6. Parallel Process – Parallel process is learning and growing alongside your child. With each moment of your child’s growth, parents are reminded of their own experiences at that age. Simultaneously, perspective is necessary for parents even when they feel there is none. Adolescence joins parent and child in the human journey of self-discovery.

7. The Struggle is Important – Parents often want to pick their child up after they fall down. It is important to recognize that resilience is linked to learned self-reliance. Adolescents need to learn and accept difficulty as part of life and living. They learn what they are made of when they go through something on their own. Parents need to support the important work of struggle as a developmental imperative.

8. Integrating The Dark Side – It can be frightening to witness a once sunny, “problem-free” child transform overnight into a gloomy, irritable adolescent. Some parents find the emerging darker side (self-doubt, anger, fear, self-consciousness) difficult to accept and send the message that the harder stuff of growing up is not accepted. Parents need to integrate the highs and lows, the good and the bad, to support balance and self-acceptance.

Ultimately, adolescents who are exposed to authentic SEL experiences and practices at home and in school are better equipped to live lives of self-acceptance, discovery and personal responsibility.

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Durlak JA, Weissberg RP, Dymnicki AB, Taylor RD, Schellinger KB.


This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement. School teaching staff successfully conducted SEL programs. The use of 4 recommended practices for developing skills and the presence of implementation problems moderated program outcomes. The findings add to the growing empirical evidence regarding the positive impact of SEL programs. Policy makers, educators, and the public can contribute to healthy development of children by supporting the incorporation of evidence-based SEL programming into standard educational practice.

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Sitting Apart

When a child begins to struggle as Jonas, age 7, is struggling in first grade, he is quickly labeled with learning and/or behavioral problems. Tagging children is a double edged sword. Students needing help must be identified so they receive support; at the same time, labeling children with behavioral/learning problems skirts social and emotional issues that may be the source and the solution to emerging “problems.”

As one teacher said, “I’m sick to death of being held responsible for whether students are happy. That’s not my job. I was trained to teach, not be a therapist.”

Jonas’s parents are called in for their first parent/teacher conference, where Jonas’s teacher, Miss Hurley, reports their son’s distractedness and sociability are causing him to fall behind his classmates. Miss Hurley, a young, efficient-looking teacher, tells Louisa and Sam that Jonas is now sitting apart from the class, in his own “big boy” desk so he can better focus on the work. She gestures over to a lone desk parked next to her desk and away from the round tables where the other children sit. Sam and Louisa imagine their son there and instantly feel defensive, lonely for him and a little afraid. Is this a judgement of their parenting? Is there something wrong with Jonas? Is he different from other children?

They tell Miss Hurley that Jonas has always been a happy child but lately he seems glum, quieter, when he gets off the school bus. Some mornings, Louisa says, “He doesn’t want to go to school.”

These are tricky waters – protective parents, a defensive, stressed-out teacher. Miss Hurley knows that an unhappy child makes for unhappy parents and it’s important to show confidence and expertise, to hide her own doubt and insecurity. She doesn’t want Sam and Louisa to think she isn’t a good, caring teacher but she also wants them to understand that their child is challenging, that maybe he has some issues that need addressing. But she knows she is getting ahead of herself. Today, Jonas’s parents need to understand that sitting apart from the class is in the best interest of Jonas and the class.

“It’s only November and some children need extra help focusing and sitting in their own big boy desk can be very helpful to them. It is by no means a punishment,” Miss Hurley says, nailing the very concern Sam and Louisa are thinking about. “Other children will sporadically have their own desks throughout the year if I think it will help them focus,” she adds, hoping to ease their obvious anxiety that their child has been singled out.

“School was hard for me,” Sam blurts with some emotion. “I hated it and I don’t want Jonas to go through what I went through.”

“I understand. Of course. A lot of children have trouble adjusting to being in school all day, sitting at a desk and not talking unless they raise their hands is hard. Jonas is good at that. He always raises his hand. He clearly wants to please. Sitting apart is helping him focus on his work so he doesn’t fall behind. That’s all. Once he catches up, he’ll rejoin the children at the round table,” Miss Hurley assures Louisa and Sam. In truth, she doesn’t see Jonas returning to the round tables. He’s too hyper, immature and unfocused and he drags the other children down. No, it’s best that he sit apart. It’s best for Jonas, the class and for me, she thinks.

They ask Miss Hurley if the “desk apart” strategy is working so far. Miss Hurley reports confidently that “Jonas no longer has the opportunity to become distracted by other students, so yes, it is better for him. It’s a good thing.”

In the end, they have little power or knowledge to argue her decision. Probably this ernest teacher is right but there is the nagging suspicion that sitting apart from his classmates is a management tool more than it is a about Jonas and his needs. They are new at being parents of a school-age child, and clearly Miss Hurley is saying to “trust her” but Louisa and Sam hear something else, something unspoken. They hear Miss Hurley saying that she hopes Sam and Louisa don’t become “those” kind of parents, the overprotective, the helicopter, the overbearing kind of parents who won’t let their child struggle or fail, who blame the teacher for their child’s school failure.

In the meetings that follow, Sam and Louisa have the distinct sense that Miss Hurley is doing to them what she is doing to Jonas. She has labeled and dismissed them and their concerns. She has decided they are those kind of parents, parents to be tolerated and endured. They, like Jonas, have become invisible to Miss Hurley and Miss Hurley is an impenetrable blur to them. They can no longer see each other. All they can really do is hope that next year will be better.

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“Designer Emily Pilloton moved to rural Bertie County, in North Carolina, to engage in a bold experiment of design-led community transformation. She’s teaching a design-build class called Studio H that engages high schoolers’ minds and bodies while bringing smart design and new opportunities to the poorest county in the state.” Ted,com

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We have to stop blaming kids.

Like most controversial subjects in our hyper media landscape, bullying is under examination. Unfortunately, that examination is so far superficial – with predictable villains and innocents.

But the “why” of bullying is at once deeper and more complex than how it is now being described.

By now the story is disturbingly familiar. A child is bullied and traumatized by a perpetrator who has taken advantage in some malicious way. Parents are shocked and upset that their child is under attack. Teachers and school officials are flummoxed and overwhelmed by the hidden complexity of the problem. Sometimes they hide behind the cloak of school privacy or feel like deer in headlights but mostly they struggle with how to break down this very real problem.

Little is ever resolved and too often the problem is left to parents to manage their child’s torment and unhappiness privately and sometimes tragically.

As readers and parents, we leave these stories angry and confused, generally blaming the perpetrator. How can children be that cruel?

As the Dalai Lama said, we are not born compassionate; we learn compassion just as we learn cruelty, empathy and kindness. We must practice our humanity to embody our humanity and schools have never been in the business of teaching what is now called social and emotional learning. As a result, left to their own devices, children often work out the more complex social and emotional aspects of who they are – on the proverbial playground – in cruel and childish ways.

When growing up, few adults guided me in the social and emotional areas of my development and little has changed. Bullying may be a more pervasive and insidious today and still, adults are notably absent.

In “Waiting for Superman,” the dramatic documentary about our failing public schools, former DC School Chancellor Michele Rhee places blame on adults unwilling to put kids first in terms of getting their learning needs met.

This unwillingness to place children’s learning (and developmental) needs at the forefront of education is where the problem lies. It is right that we focus on teacher effectiveness because teachers create the environment for learning. But, even the best teachers cannot take real and consistent time for non-academic needs. The problems of bullying is essentially relational and “relationship” is not taught in school.

It is the caring, attuned teacher who is most coveted by parent and student. These “special” teachers effectively communicate by naturally taking on the role of a firm but loving parent. They individualize student needs and resist branding kids as “problems.” They grow alongside students and are flexible and creatively incorporate social and emotional learning into their classroom language. They understand that a well-adjusted child is a child whose mind is open to learning.

But another, more dominant group of adults have designed a system of education that ignores the social and emotional aspects of development, allowing for a Lord of the Flies mentality to take place in schools and classrooms. As one teacher said, “I’m sick to death of being held responsible for whether they’re happy or not. That’s not my job. My job is to make sure they are getting their education and that does not include dealing with the emotional stuff. I have no training in that and definitely no time.”

Interpersonal problems between students are not the fault of kids but the fault of a system that is not tending to and caring for students’ social emotional education.

There are no bad kids, just bad systems.

We need to stop blaming kids. Adults need to create learning environments that infuse students with a stronger sense of sense of self and connection to community. That is our responsibility. Not theirs.

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