Growing the Whole Child Means Building Social-Emotion Learning Supports

I can still recall my first year of teaching – I spent so much time at first thinking about how I was going to impart math facts and practices with my students, that I didn’t invest time or effort in thinking much about anything else. As the school year progressed, it didn’t take long before I realized I was missing out in building social-emotional learning supports in my classroom.

While I was expecting my students to have either grasped the information I shared due to my amazing teaching abilities (total sarcasm – I still regret some of the poor lessons I taught in my first year) or rise to the occassion, I personally witnessed students who did not have the requisite skills and supports to be successful in the classroom in responding to the challenges in learning and relating to one another in the class.

Before I even knew about the concept and framework, I realized for every educator, regardless of position or title, to focus on the “Whole Child”. ASCD has created a Whole Child Framework around the five tenets:

Immediately, I began to change classroom practices to integrate these concepts, because I wanted my students to excel in math. Yet, over time, I realized that it was important to integrate these concepts for not only the academic welfare of the student but their life in school and beyond.

By taking the time to build in structures and practices that helped to teach overt skills and building classroom routines, our classroom became a more conducive environment for learning. As a result, students were able to identify areas of need, felt more safe to share their questions and frustrations in a trusting environment, as well as learn skills to problem solve, think critically, and support one another. Not only did student learning increase, but students were more confident and better equipped to continue their learning beyond my class. My students today even tell me that their math was fun!

Today, we continue to raise our level of understanding and integrate social emotional learning supports. In addition to ASCD, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has also been a foundational support in our work through their five Core Competencies: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making.

As a district administrator, I see the power when schools and classrooms focus on the academic and behavioral supports for students at the same time. It’s not about giving up time in academics for “play-based activities”; rather, it’s investing time in helping students to develop foundational skills for them to be successful and productive in their academic work and life, growing the Whole Child.

As a parent, I have come to appreciate the additional supports from educators with my two boys helping them to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses (Self-Awareness), manage their stress and become empowered (Self-Management), recognize other perspectives and empathize (Social Awareness), build positive friendships (Relationship Skills), and own their decisions (Responsible Decision-Making).

I don’t know if this is something that is new in a successful learning environment or will (or should) ever go away in a responsible classroom. The better educators also understand how to embed this work in the daily classroom practices; not just settle for once-a-month activities. There isn’t a better time to start, and there’s not a time to withhold this work. I challenge you to continue investing this work (ASCD and CASEL are two great resources) and collaborating with your colleagues. Good luck!

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