When I first sat down a month ago to begin starting up a company in the realm of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), my first step was to jot down all my random thoughts about what I wanted this company to be, and step-by-step how I saw myself reaching my goals. But then I sat back and did an exercise I had discovered through my weight loss app, Noom. I reflected on my Ultimate Why. Noom says your Ultimate Why should ‘excite and inspire you.’ Your Ultimate Why is not the first answer that pops into your mind…it is the answer that you reach after you (somewhat childishly) keep asking yourself, “Why?”
Why? (Iteration 1)
Having recently completed my Masters in Educational Psychology, which is the psychology of how we learn, I have read numerous articles and texts on best educational practices. The psychology behind how to motivate students, how our brains work, and instructional design does not match our current high pressure culture and homework loads. Similarly, the rising expectation for teachers to incorporate SEL into their curriculum and classrooms does not match the low levels of teacher professional development.
In this opinion article in The New York Times, Brooks quotes Tali Raviv, the associate director of the Center for Childhood Resilience. Raviv says many children today are suffering a social-skills deficit. She says they “have fewer opportunities to practice social-emotional skills, whether it’s because they live in a violent community where they can’t go outside, or whether it’s because there’s overprotection of kids and they don’t get the independence to walk down to the corner store.”
Does this “excite and inspire” me? A little. Not to the level required to start a company. And so we try again.
Why? (Iteration 2)
Our nation’s mental health is suffering. The pressures of social media are deafening. The rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide amongst kids keep increasing. The same article by Brooks quotes a statistic from the Journal of Abnormal Psychology: “between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression rose by more than 60 percent among those ages 14 to 17, and 47 percent among those ages 12 to 13. The number of children and teenagers who were seen in emergency rooms with suicidal thoughts or having attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2015.”
We have a scarcity of mental health services, and I believe in order to address that, we will need to broaden our ideas of what constitutes poor mental health, how it is treated, and how it is prevented.
My own children have anxiety, and while I am grateful to be able to have both the means and education to know ways to help them, it strikes me as egregiously unfair how much less access others have to these services.
Does this inspire me? We are definitely getting there. Let’s give it one more go.
Why? (Iteration 3)
The largest problems of this world, in my opinion, center around violence. The societal issues that deeply sadden and anger me — gun violence, rape culture, domestic abuse, discrimination, hate crimes, even terrorism — all seem too large and overwhelming for me to make any dent in them. The research behind the impact to be had by social and emotional learning is compelling — emotional regulation, acceptance, belonging, identity, behavioral benefits, relationship skills. SEL is my way of having an impact on the greater world.
Since it is 9/11 today, these thoughts carry that much more emotional weight than they usually do, which is perhaps why I chose to sit down and write this. My very first week of teaching was in September 2001. I remember hearing about the attack on the drive to school — my husband and I pulled over and listened to the radio, shellshocked. I didn’t even really understand what was happening. When he dropped me to school, all I could think was, “How am I going to keep it together for my kids?” I didn’t. We cried together, had thoughtful discussions, and spent the day consoling each other. The profound connection I formed with my very first class has impacted me deeply — and I do believe that is the social connectedness to be found through developing social and emotional skills.
Does this inspire me? Deeply.
Once I started writing I couldn’t stop, so I have created a publication on Medium called EverythingSEL. I welcome all thoughtful stories related to the field of Social and Emotional Learning in Education!