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The Challenge of Developing an Academic Curriculum That Addresses Social Emotional Learning

It’s not enough for the school lessons of today to simply focus on students’ academic progress. Social and emotional learning must be infused into the curriculum to prepare students for the challenges they’ll face throughout their lives.

A brief by 28 academic researchers specializing in the fields of child psychology and behavioral development organized by the Aspen Institute's National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development takes a deeper look at what is and isn’t working in the classroom curriculum.

"This body of research demonstrates what parents have always known—the success of young people in school and beyond is inextricably linked to healthy social and emotional development, such as the ability to pay attention, understand and manage emotions, and work effectively in a team," read a statement by Stephanie Jones, a Harvard professor who co-authored the report.

When social and emotional components are effectively woven into the academic lessons of the classroom, students develop skills needed to function as independent adults and contributing members of their community.

All educators champion the goal of ensuring that young people graduate from high school ready to move on to success in higher education, a changing workforce, and family life. The shift, however, is the growing recognition of placing greater emphasis on helping students to develop skills that might not traditionally be considered a part of the tested and graded classroom curriculum. The ability to communicate effectively, learn to lead, collaborate with others, and resolve conflict while accomplishing a task are pillars for success in life.

At Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School (LAB), which just opened this school year,  students will learn through a model that simultaneously blends college-prep academia with leadership skills. Student competencies are grouped into four quadrants: Content Knowledge, Creative Know-How, Habits of Success and Wayfinding Abilities. Each quadrant is made up of five competencies such as math core, career-related technical skills, setting goals, social skills, and entrepreneurship. With this curriculum that incorporates essential non-academic skills, comes the challenge of how to measure student success.

A key factor is accepting that all 20 competencies don’t necessarily have to receive an equal amount of instruction and assessment. “We can take those 10,000 foot competencies, figure out which ones to prioritize and figure out how we can move the needle on some of them,” said Eric Tucker, one of the school’s co-founders.

Schools likely won’t be able to revolutionize just how much emphasis is placed on SEL in the classroom without supportive local and state policies stressed Tim Shriver of the Aspen Institute.

“A curriculum that develops the whole child, in the hands of a high-quality teacher, is the secret sauce.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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