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Senate is Briefed on Social-Emotional Learning as a Tool for Academic Success

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on June 09, 2011

The National School Climate Center was part of a collaborative effort on Thursday, May 12th, which sought to inform members of the US Senate (as well as other policy influencers) on the issues of social, emotional and character development. The collaboration, which included members of The National Association of School Psychologists, The Committee for Children, and The Character Education Partnership, was also supported by Senator Harkin (Iowa-D) and  Senator Enzi (Wyoming-R) and was very well attended by many other representatives from Senate and House offices and related organizations.

The briefing, entitled “Enhancing Conditions for Student Learning and Academic Achievement through Social, Emotional, and Character Development,” was led by Linda McKay, one of the Character Education Partnership's Board of Directors. In addition to informing Senators and other policy makers about these important topics, the briefing was held in an attempt to gain support for the possible inclusion of social, emotional and character development into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, once it is reauthorized. The briefing tackled the issue by dividing it into six key parts:

1. Particular importance of social-emotional learning and character development for students deemed at-risk for graduation rates, academic achievement, and classroom behavior.

2. The implication of social-emotional learning and character development on enhancing conditions for learning.

3. Examining examples of schools that successfully implemented social-emotional learning and character development into their curriculums and how it improved the schools’ climates for the students and faculty.

4. The need to utilize legislative policies to create a way of systematically implementing social emotional learning and character development into schools.

5. The continuous and accurate assessments of school climates that are required in order to see notable improvements within.          

6. Recommendations for how to include social-emotional learning and character development into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as well as other connected pieces of legislation.

While Linda McKay led the briefing, a number of other experts participated by sitting on a panel, each expressing their major concerns as well as fielding questions. One of the most effective of these panelists was Kristen Pelster, the Principal of Ridgewood Middle School in Arnold Missouri, a National School of Character. She gave her account of Ridgewood Middle School’s transformation—while there were over 700 F’s given to students in 2001, only 6 were given in 2010 and math proficiency also increased from 7-71% over these years. Pelster was very clear about the fact that there had been absolutely no changes in the actual academic curriculum, but some very significant changes towards a character education program. Briefing audience members responded very strongly to this story. Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and a member of the Character Education Program’s Education Advisory Council, presented research that served to strengthen the panel’s case the need for social-emotional learning and character development to be implemented into schools.

The briefing ended with audience members having the opportunity to ask the panel questions. McKay fielded the first question, which asked about the process of making a connection between character education and an improved rate of academic success; McKay cited increased funding as a very important element in this process as more funding will enable the US government to do randomized evaluation of character development in schools. Additionally, many of the other panelists cited that increased research needs to be done, specifically to learn how to teach students to think on a higher level, which is not something that can necessarily be measured by standardized testing scores alone. Another poignant question asked which framework is most effective at implementing social, emotional, and character development. However, because each school is different and has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, there is no single fail-proof method. This is what makes the funding for randomized evaluation and research so important—to be able to answer that question for schools on an individual basis.

Susan Gorin, the Executive Director of the National Association of School Psychologists, closed the briefing by expressing the urgency of social-emotional learning to make its way into current education legislation.

 “Safe and respectful conditions for learning must be created in order for students to succeed and it is through social, emotional and character development that this will happen,” (Character Education Partnership).


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