Tag Archives: social emotional learning

Back to School: What’s Your “Magic Wand” Education Solution? (Part Four)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay for Pexels

Join Ahead of the Heard for a lively back-to-school series expanding on Andy Rotherham’s original Eduwonk post, What’s Your Magic Wand?, featuring reflections on wish-list education solutions heading into the fall from teachers, school leaders, academics, media types, parents, private sector funders, advocates, Bellwarians…you name it.

At Bellwether, we’re focused on the 2021-22 school year ahead but also on what we’ve collectively endured since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a gross understatement to say that it has been a lot, that mistakes have been made, that many rose to the occasion achieving amazing things for students (while others did not), and that countless lessons were (re)learned. It has been a season where optimism was sometimes elusive and where challenges often seemed insurmountable.

So we thought we’d do something a little different…and try to have some fun.

We turned to contacts across the country in the education sector and asked them this simple, hopeful question. Answers vary as widely as each participant’s background and will be featured over a two-week span.

Teachers, students, and families will enter into a 2021-22 school year unlike any other. If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one education issue you’d address or solve right now, and why?

Hadley Bachman
Program Manager of Community Development, The Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center at The Ohio State University

“If I could wave my magic wand and change one thing in education, I would change the ‘old way’ of thinking about family participation. We used to think about family engagement just as mom volunteering at a bake sale, or parents coming in when the principal calls them about a discipline problem. We still hang onto some of these old ideas when we assume families are hard to reach and need to be ‘fixed.’ I’d wave my wand and help school leaders and policymakers see the power of family voice in decision-making, leadership, and evaluation in schools. No one understands what motivates children better; no one sees the barriers in education more clearly; no one feels the effects of implicit bias more poignantly. Without family voice at the table, we stay stuck in outdated and misguided ideas about how to fix educational problems — doing ‘to’ instead of ‘with.’”

Mark Schneiderman
Senior Director, Future of Teaching & Learning

“I’d focus on resilience in schools, specifically on the thing that would radically change education but creates anxiety: the notion of schools addressing extendibility and redundancy. Viewing the classroom and teacher-student interaction as the only way teaching and learning can take place is by definition limiting both systemically and for individual students. Schools need enduring partnerships and to consider themselves a hub but not always the driver. For example, if an AP physics teacher retires, instead of a ‘now what’ moment, what if a school had an ongoing partnership with a non-traditional provider, or with a college physics department, or with an online provider? This is threatening to some, like unions, who view anything non-traditional as privatization of education. However, our colleges are learning that they must adjust or they will be out of business. As schools see families and FTE dollars leave and have to scramble to provide a digital academy option in the pandemic it begs the question: why not think outside the box and lean on those ensuring partnerships?”

Celine Coggins
Executive Director, Grantmakers for Education

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would require vaccine passports for all students over age 12 as well as the teachers and staff that interact with them. Our goal should be access to safe, in-person school for as many students as possible. The past two years have been incredibly disruptive. Students at the secondary level have very limited time left with access to free public education. We know masks, school cancellations due to positive COVID-19 cases, and general uncertainty can deter kids from school and toward other options. We know that the public system lost tens of thousands of older kids prematurely over the past 1.5 years. We cannot risk continuing to accelerate the dropout rate. We cannot risk another year of minimized learning and widening inequality of opportunity. We cannot risk people’s health unnecessarily. 

I recognize that some teachers unions have taken a stand against mandatory vaccinations. I hope they will shift their position and use their bully pulpit as a force for good in the service of public health. We as a society have a long history of supporting vaccination as a condition of school attendance in cases where the risk of spread greatly outweighs the risk of the vaccine. This should be no exception.”

Jared Bigham
Senior Advisor on Workforce & Rural Initiatives, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce; Board Chair, Tennessee Rural Education Association; Active Member, National Rural Education Association

“I always say there are no ‘silver bullets’ in education, but I do believe there is a silver buckshot that could significantly change student success: establishing universal pre-K for all students, with an emphasis on kindergarten readiness. We constantly play a game of catch-up with more than half of our students across the country, when we could change the dynamic significantly by starting students on their K-12 path ready to learn on Day One. Look at kindergarten readiness scores for any feeder pattern, and you’ll see that same percentage play out almost exactly at every milestone marker we track, all the way to postsecondary.”

Brad Allan
K-12 Director, Hanover Research

“I want to address and solve the problem of measuring so-called non-cognitive skills and outcomes. I’ve always been on Team Non-Cogs in the imaginary competition between hard and soft skills, but the availability of measurable outcomes renders the competition moot (as well as imaginary). If we could magically get up and running on non-cognitive skills’ measurement, we could reverse-engineer ways to build them, and thereby equip students with skills that underlie success in life beyond the classroom.”

Leslye A. Arsht
Co-Founder and Board Chair, StandardsWork; Former Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Education in Iraq

“I would have all high schools offer 10th graders* the opportunity to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to help students identify career areas of interest. Then, expand their Career Exploration programs (including dual enrollment arrangements with colleges and universities) with two goals in mind: 1) helping students identify career opportunities they are interested in and good at, and 2) introducing a wide array of mastery-based instructional approaches to keep 12th graders engaged in learning, especially for high-demand careers that don’t require a 4-year degree. 

*The U.S. Department of Defense would have to agree they ‘own’ the tests, and they can’t recruit students in 10th grade (they can identify high-performing students for recruiting in 11th and 12th grades). Currently, the test is offered by guidance counselors to students they think should (or want to) consider the military. But many students (especially ones who have little exposure in life to the countless kinds of career options that exist) would be so much better prepared to make education and life choices with access to these tools.”

Meredith Olson
President, VELA Education Fund

“The magic wand I would wave would allow students freedom to combine the settings, methods, and social arrangements (people) for their learning in novel ways. That would mean greater flexibility of time and place, and more opportunities for solo learning (getting lost in a book!), mixed-age learning, engagement with adults and family members, participation in community organizations, and enrichment opportunities. Less homework, less stress and deeper, more meaningful experiences and family time.”

Stay tuned for more in our “Magic Wand” series and join the conversation on Twitter @bellwethered.

(Editorial note: Some organizations listed in this series may include past or present clients or funders of Bellwether.)

Social-Emotional Needs First. Standards and Accountability Later.

Last week we connected with a frustrated school leader who has been valiantly trying to put into place a robust distance learning plan aligned with college readiness standards, all while attending to the mental health and social emotional needs of her students and staff. She shared stories of her high school students going to work to financially support their households, students serving as the primary caregivers to younger siblings, and families navigating housing insecurity and homelessness.

With the sobering reality of these basic needs juxtaposed with the virtual learning mandates coming from her district, feelings of anger, frustration, and hopelessness began to set in:

My kids are dealing with way bigger issues here. Focusing on virtual learning and an instructional plan, without paying attention to the human condition, is just plain wrong.

We know that many teachers have been saying the same thing. Across the country, schools are beginning to come to a shared understanding that pushing academic content at the pre-pandemic pace needs to stop. Instead of focusing so intently on standards and accountability, this moment calls for education leaders to reground in common sense and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s theory posits that basic needs must be met in order for individuals to have capacity to engage in deep cognitive thought and learning. 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

We would be remiss not to acknowledge efforts by schools to address food insecurity. But at the same time, we see numerous examples of school systems who desperately continue trying to meet grade level expectations and standards in English Language Arts, Math, and Science at the expense of attending to the social-emotional health and well-being of students.

Many teachers and parents are in a hamster wheel of anxiety about somehow failing their kids if they are “not on pace” — a task the even best of teachers grapple to achieve for all of their students within pre-pandemic circumstances. In a time of stress and anxiety, we are creating more stress and anxiety, which is not conducive to teaching or learning. Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

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