Words From Our Incoming Head Of School – Dan Schwartz
A key aspect of a meaningful school educational experience is the commitment to engaging a student’s mind, heart, and hands. In paying conscious attention to the cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic areas of child development, we help our students grow into well-rounded human beings.
I want to explore how and why we attend to developing the affective arena – engaging a child’s heart. We are keenly aware that teaching students about social-emotional skills and awareness is important in our school community. In our classrooms, we help students understand that they should take care of themselves, take care of each other, and take care of our school. In creating such a community, we learn that our actions and words are interconnected, that what we do and say matters. In acknowledging the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL), the Illinois State Board of Education requires that schools follow SEL standards. These standards are designed to help:
“…children develop awareness and management of their emotions, set and achieve important personal and academic goals, use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships, and demonstrate decision-making and responsible behaviors to achieve school and life success.”
An important report by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning considers the impact of SEL in schools. The report analyzes data from approximately 325,000 students across the country. In brief, the authors found that “SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress.”
In addition, the report found that SEL programming improved students’ academic performance by 11 to 17 percentile points across all of the studies reviewed.[ii] It is clear that SEL benefits both students and the school community.
A progressive school’s experiential approach values a student’s mind, heart, and hands. Each have value and together help develop critical thinkers, courageous citizens, and compassionate friends. From time to time, a parent will ask why we take time away from the study of academics to talk about “fluffy” SEL material. It is clear from our own experiences and the research and standards from CASEL and the ISBE that paying attention to SEL helps both the academic and affective aspects of an individual’s growth and shapes the nature of our school community.
A number of years ago, in a previous school, an eighth grader spoke at graduation about our school community following the Columbine shootings. He said that while he understood the need for metal detectors, security guards, and other actions taken by many schools, he most appreciated what a caring school offered its students. In those schools, he said, we arm our hearts, creating a community in which we know about and are known by each other, care about each other, and trust each other. Through creating classroom constitutions, conflict resolution strategies, lessons about up-standers, and open and deep discussions about the world around them, our students learn to act with compassion. They build strong relationships and caring classrooms, which are the foundation of our school.
Centuries ago, Confucius had the following to say about the power of education:
If your plan is for one year, plant rice
If your plan is for ten years, plant trees
If your plan is for a hundred years, educate children.
Let us educate them well.