Tag Archives: social emotional learning

Why the Preschool “Academic vs. Social-Emotional” Debate is Wrong

If you’re interested in early childhood education, family engagement, or children’s mental health, you need to pay attention to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week.

The study is an evaluation of ParentCorps, an intervention program that trains preschool teachers to support children’s social emotional skills and implement an evidence-based social emotional curriculum, while also working with parents of preschool children.

The results are impressive: By 2nd grade, children who participated in ParentCorps had fewer mental health problems and better academic achievement than preschoolers who did not participate. I’ve been fortunate over the past few years to learn more about ParentCorps through my work with the Stranahan Foundation, one of several foundations supporting the model’s expansion in New York City preschool programs.

The JAMA study is important for several reasons:

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Don’t Sell Us Short, Dilbert

Dilbert

Book cover image from Amazon.com

Today the bespectacled, techie character Dilbert sprang from his longstanding, corporate comic strip existence into my inbox. In response to a piece I recently wrote about Trump’s character deficit and his disconnect with the movement for social emotional learning in education, a colleague forwarded this Wall Street Journal article that highlights thoughts from the cartoon’s creator, Scott Adams.

My article discussed how educators should double down on working with children to enhance their own social skills and emotional development, and help them identify those that deviate significantly from reasonable social norms — limiting the damage they can inflict. But Adams’ position is more futile, in keeping with the social commentary within his strip. He argues that Trump’s ability as a “Master Persuader” appeals to people’s fears and undisciplined emotions. People are incapable of thinking rationally, he suggests, and this has paved the way for Trump.

He’s partially right.

What Adams points out is pure psychology and represents what we know about cognition. In fact, it reinforces the work being done by educators (and, I might add, parents, coaches, and other caring adults) to shape our children into thoughtful human beings ruled not simply by base instincts, but also by reason and morality. Emotional, and at times, irrational response is consistent with the geography of our brain: Emotion and memory, residing in the amygdala and the hippocampus, are next-door-neighbors. Fear and emotion often drive our decision-making because they make immediate and searing impressions on our brains. Reason is not part of that equation. It’s the rationale behind so many commercials and yes, campaigns. And while fear and emotion are important to decision-making, unless we’re in a real fight or flight situation, they’re not enough.

When people stop there, they often make decisions based on limited and faulty information that reveal themselves as life gets complicated, nuanced, and real. After all, much of life is highly ambiguous and requires analysis and problem-solving. From classroom projects to organizational strategy, personal relationships to international partnerships, and parenting to policymaking, we must lean on the decision-making calculus performed in our frontal lobes, our mind’s “executive.”

This is where the support of educators can help move children from responding exclusively to emotions as they are generated to behaving with emotional regulation. Social and self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making are competencies that develop over time within the context of a child’s environment, which includes homes and schools. Social emotional skills that engage our ability to process, synthesize, and analyze information can be taught and reinforced, allowing us to move beyond knee-jerk reactions and decisions to more considered thinking that capitalizes on the actual power of the human brain. Making an effort to develop these skills in children reaps both social and academic rewards.

The success of Adams’ Dilbert series relates to his incisive analysis of human behavior as it intersects with personal and professional politics. He then sprinkles this with a dash of humor, appealing to our emotions. That’s linking our base instincts to our executive functions.

If Dilbert can do it, so can our kids.

Much Ado About Grit? Interview with a Leading Psych Researcher

What is grit? Can it be measured accurately, and is it different from other personality traits? If so, how well does an individual’s level of “grit” predict how successful that person will be in the future? And is grit an innate characteristic, or can it be improved with practice?

The answers to these questions suddenly matter a great deal for schools. As states begin to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, there’s widespread interest in incorporating “non-academic” factors such as grit into the way states define what it means to be a successful school.

Marcus Crede

Marcus Crede photo via Iowa State University

To learn more about grit and the research behind it, I reached out to Marcus Crede, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University and the author of a provocative new study called “Much Ado about Grit: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Grit Literature.” After reviewing the full academic literature on grit, Crede challenges much of the popular narrative. For example, his study finds that grit is barely distinct from other personality traits and that standardized test scores, attendance, and study habits are much better predictors of long-term success than grit.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation. Continue reading

39 Magical Years of Exploration: Wisdom from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Kindergarten Teacher

When I think about kindergarten, a number of images instantly come to mind: wooden blocks, the house corner, easels, smocks, water tables, the alphabet, and paper bag frog puppets. But, what I remember the most vividly is my teacher, Miss Spendly, and her wide, affirming smile and warm eyes. She made me fall in love with school.

Lin-Manuel Miranda remembers his kindergarten teacher fondly too. He tweeted a picture of the two of them in December. When Mrs. Liebov first came to see his Broadway show In the Heights, he proclaimed: “Mrs. Liebov, look what I made!”

Lin-Manuel Miranda hugging his kindergarten teach Amy Liebov

photo via @Lin_Manuel

Mrs. Liebov is an expert on kindergarten. She spent thirty-nine years guiding five-year-old students through a magical year of exploration, first at Hunter College Elementary School, a school for gifted children, and then as a founding faculty member at The School at Columbia University. I visited her classroom at Columbia before she retired and was amazed by her joyous, beautiful, and functional classroom. Mrs. Liebov easily guided students through lessons on symmetry and art projects modeled on Eric Carle’s books. Her young students made videos declaring their favorite parts of kindergarten, including memorable comments like: “I liked learning about Picasso’s blue period.” I recently interviewed Mrs. Liebov to capture her deep wisdom about the magical time of kindergarten and how it has changed in recent years.

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