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How Do You Explain Social-Emotional Learning In The Classroom?

How Do You Explain Social-Emotional Learning In The Classroom?

The recent shift toward social-emotional learning (SEL)–accelerated by the shift to remote teaching and learning and the isolation of a global pandemic–is, of course, a wonderful thing.
If nothing else, it’s a nod and a wink to the idea that students are first people. Emotion drives us as human beings–our brains literally, for example. In Why Emotion Is More Important Than Understanding , I quoted the following ‘neuroscientific’ explanation: Emotion enhances our ability to form vivid memories of even trivial events. Norepinephrine (NE), a neuromodulator released during emotional arousal, plays a central role in the emotional regulation of memory . . . Our results indicate that NE-driven phosphorylation of GluR1 facilitates the synaptic delivery of GluR1-containing AMPARs, lowering the threshold for LTP, thereby providing a molecular mechanism for how emotion enhances learning and memory.

So emotion enhances learning by flooding the brain with biological actuators of memory. In education, we look for symptoms of these emotions, maybe engagement or creativity. In regards to human motivation, in his book ‘ Drive ,’ Daniel Pink says that, “The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table: Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Once you do that, it turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

These pseudo-abstractions–autonomy, mastery, and (especially) purpose–are all either causes or effects of ’emotions.’ These emotions themselves are causes and effects of mindsets and psychological urges and patterns. These urges and patterns have been forged over time through the natural and countless feedback loops embedded in living.

Years ago, there was a push for ‘Whole Child’ education that addressed the broader needs of children–those that extend beyond the academic. Recently, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has also been referenced and emphasized because the idea of teaching an anxious or hungry or depressed student the Pythagorean Theorem just doesn’t feel like our best thinking. Let’s address the former, the thinking goes, so that we can teach the latter.

It’s at this point that we really need to decide what the purpose of school is–something I’ve addressed directly and indirectly in dozens of posts over the years: The Definition Of Good Work , The Characteristics Of A Good School , What Works In Education And How Do We Know , and more.

It’s at this point that we really need to decide what the purpose of school is–something I’ve addressed directly and indirectly in dozens of posts over the years: The Definition Of Good Work, The Characteristics Of A Good School, What Works In Education And How Do We Know, and more.

Is it the responsibility of school to ‘attend’ first to the social-emotional well-being of a child? Maybe ‘responsibility’ isn’t the best word. Should it be a priority? A ‘nice to have’? A ‘while teaching other stuff, add this in’? A way to frame all academic learning?

Should there be standards for it so we all mean the same thing? Standards for social-emotional learning seems like an absurd idea but maybe it’s not. Maybe education needs to understand this kind of push collectively.
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