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June 29, 2017

Social and emotional learning, a teacher’s perspective

I was a fourth-grade teacher in Tulsa, Okla., when I decided to go back to school myself and study education research. I continued to teach and the difference in my instructional style after attending graduate school was like night and day. I attribute a great deal of my own personal growth as a teacher and the success of my class to simply addressing the social and emotional aspects of my students.

When I began my second year of teaching, I decided I needed to foster some social skills in my fourth-graders before I could really begin tackling the academic subject material. I remember feeling this might be a big risk. My class was below grade level academically, but I felt that not addressing the social and emotional issues was where I went wrong in my first year. As a consequence, my first year of teaching resulted in an out-of-control classroom that got in the way of numerous academic learning opportunities.

So, I began my second year by teaching my students how to talk to one another in a productive and nonjudgmental way. This may seem like something you would expect a nine or 10-year-old to be able to do, or a skill that they would simply pick up over time, but I felt that it was necessary to teach this as explicitly as one would teach multiplication.

During my first year as a teacher, I tried to limit student-to-student interaction because it often lead to arguments and disruptions, but I knew that this was a skill that all people needed in their lives. To directly teach this skill, we engaged in a lot of role playing as a class. Students would practice disagreeing about nonacademic subjects in a respectful way so that they could make the distinction between a subject disagreement and a personal attack. My goal was for them to be able to eventually talk about an idea and disagree about something, without taking it personally, and to be able to understand a different perspective.

To understand another perspective on a subject is a type of critical thinking, but also a form of empathy. So, when I designed the behavior system in my class, I wanted one of the first consequences to be a reflection sheet and one-on-one discussion with me and the student. Students would fill out a paper where they explained their behavior and the reasoning behind it. I would then ask them questions to walk them through the process to reflect on their choices and understand how the other student or students were feeling because of that choice. Then we would discuss different ways to handle the situation in the future so that the student could learn from his/her mistake instead of repeating it.

My second year of teaching was so much more enjoyable for me and my students, and I think a big reason was because of these changes.  Instead of simply reacting to behavior, I could anticipate it and address some of the underlying causes head on. That year, my students grew substantially in their academic subject knowledge, but hopefully they also left my class with skills like empathy, collaboration and self-reflection which are just as important for success.

Filed under: elementary education,SEL,teachers — Annie Hemphill @ 10:23 am

June 27, 2017

The importance of social and emotional learning Part II: PISA results

The most recent report from PISA 2015 results is about findings regarding how the United States compares to other countries on social emotional learning.  These questions were answered by 15-year-old students based on their home and school life.

OECDSELThe first question was about general life satisfaction of the students.  The students from the United States were close to the OECD average for all 72 countries involved.  One interesting note was some of the higher performing countries, like South Korea, reported very low levels of life satisfaction among their students.  On the other hand, students in Northern European countries, like the Netherlands and Finland, reported the highest levels of life satisfaction.  These European countries were also some of the best academic performers with above average scores, although less than some East Asian nations. Researchers found students feel higher levels of life satisfaction when they report meeting friends after school, having the support of teachers and parents and engaging in physical activity.

Another indicator that they measured was bullying.  Students answered questions about a range of different types of bullying they may experience in school and how often this occurs.  Compared to other countries, the US students reported slightly more bullying than average.  One characteristic that helped lower the bullying rate in a school was when students reported that they felt their school had a strong disciplinary climate.

The third indicator the OECD gathered data on was school anxiety.  Students in the United States reported feeling more anxious about doing well in school, taking tests and preparing for exams than most other countries.  This is interesting because the United States is actually tested less than most other countries, and the tests students take here do not have as significant of consequences as those in other countries.  So the question is, why are our students so stressed?

While there are many factors that go into answering this question, researchers found that one reason could be tied to student motivation.  The students in the US reported some of the highest levels of motivation compared to other countries.  95% of said they “want to be the best, whatever [they] do” compared to the 65% OECD average and 85% said they “want to be one of the best students in [their] class” compared to the 59% OECD average.  While high student motivation is a good thing for student achievement, the types of motivation seen by students in the US could be related to higher anxiety levels.  US students have a competitive motivation.  It is more extrinsic than intrinsic where they want to do well to get into a good college or get good grades, rather than having intrinsic motivation to do well because they are interested in the subject.  Researchers could not confirm a causal relationship but they found that intrinsic motivation is related with lower levels of anxiety and extrinsic with higher levels.  So while it is great that students want to do well in school, it is important to know that reasons behind this desire to succeed.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons,PISA,research,SEL — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 8:00 am

June 16, 2017

The importance of social and emotional learning: Part I

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a subject that’s being increasingly discussed in the education community. SEL is teaching students character skills, which most people agree are important.  The challenge is, while these attributes are significant, they are often hard to objectively define and analyze to see how exactly they impact a student’s future.  In 2015 the OECD published the report Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills with a goal to shed light on evidence behind the impact social emotional learning can have on students.


The report has many findings, but I hope to highlight a few that I find particularly interesting.  The first finding is social and emotional skill development plays a significant role in a student’s academic development.  Specifically, out of the many skills measured “conscientiousness, sociability and emotional stability” helped with future career and social prospects.  If you think about it, this makes sense.  If you have a student who can regulate his/her emotions, show respect and get along with his/her peers, this student will have skills that will help in future classes covering all different subject areas, and for a wide variety of careers.

The impact of SEL is significant for any student, but its impact is even higher on those students who have lower academic performance.  These students are often placed in intervention programs to help them catch up to their peers.  The evidence from this report shows that social and emotional development should be a key part of these programs because it can help the interventions have an even greater impact on student performance.  This further makes attention to SEL a key consideration for improving equity in a school system.

The OECD report also notes the importance of teaching these character traits early in a student’s education career.  After reviewing the current literature, they find that focusing on social and emotional development in early childhood programs has future benefits for students, such as fewer behavior problems and greater student learning.  The report showcases a few specific programs that have been researched and implemented in schools.  One of these programs is “Tools of Mind” which is used in preschool and early primary classrooms to teach students how to regulate their emotions and social behaviors.  While no long-term study has been carried out on students who have completed the program, short-term evaluations do show that students have improved classroom behavior and emotional control.  The skills students learn in these programs build on each other, and so the earlier they can start the better.

Six months ago, the OECD released the findings for the 2015 PISA. PISA is an international assessment for 15-year-old students in reading, math and science and is given in 72 countries.  One of the key areas of analysis for this round of PISA is social and emotional development and well-being, and looking at how this may be associated with student performance.  Next week, I will highlight some of the key findings from the more recent report that shows how the U.S. compares to the 72 other countries. — Annie Hemphill

Filed under: equity,SEL,Student support — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 3:08 pm

June 13, 2017

New research: Community schools are an evidence-based strategy for school improvement

Last week, in a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., six schools and community-based initiatives across the country were recognized for their excellence in utilizing the community schools model. The Coalition for Community Schools highlighted the considerable achievements of schools from New York City, Nashville, Chicago and Oakland.

CommunitySchoolsShotThe National Education Policy Center (NEPC) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) also presented new research at the event that supported the use of the community schools model as an evidence-based strategy for school improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires that all interventions meet the “evidence-based” requirement, and this new research suggests that community schools more than meet that standard.

The community schools model may be a particularly effective strategy for improving schools in areas that struggle with high rates of poverty, because it creates a support system for students and families that addresses needs outside of the academic curriculum. Community schools create a system of partnerships and collaborations that address the needs of each child not only as a learner but also as a community member.

Because the needs and assets of each community are unique, there is no one formula for creating a community school. Each community school takes a unique approach to the model depending upon the circumstances of its students and families. However, all form partnerships and collaborations to create a set of integrated services that meet the needs of the whole child. Most are open before and after school—some even on weekends and during the summer—to provide students with wraparound support. Community schools provide services such as physical and mental health screenings, parent and community resources, and expanded learning opportunities like sports and arts programs.

Despite the variety of approaches, NEPC and LPI were able to identify common aspects of the community schools model that lead to success, including a wraparound student support system and a high degree of community collaboration and engagement. The newly released research also found that for every dollar invested in a community school, there will be a $10 to $15 return on investment within the community. In the awardee schools, chronic absenteeism and discipline referrals have decreased, test scores have increased, and fast academic growth has resulted in rising state ratings. Across the board, students and families report closer school and community ties. Using a wraparound support system, community schools may be a tool to close achievement gaps, prepare students for college and future careers, and promote positive outcomes throughout the broader community.

June 8, 2017

How do high performing education systems in other countries prepare and develop their teachers?

Earlier this week, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) released its report, Empowered Educators, which examined international research on teacher professional development and preparation.  Lead by renowned education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond, the research team reviewed systems in Finland, Singapore, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, Alberta and Ontario in Canada, and Shanghai as guides for exceptional examples for empowering teachers.  After reviewing all the systems, there were four common elements:

1. Solid Base in Technical and Pedagogical Knowledge

In Finland, teacher candidates are required to complete a degree in at least one academic subject.  Then they continue onto a graduate level program where they learn pedagogic methods to teach their subject to K-12 aged students.  Darling-Hammond also noted that in some of these systems that were studied, the number of teacher certification programs is significantly lower than the U.S. model, emphasizing quality over quantity.  In Finland, there are only 8 programs that are housed in research universities and in Singapore there is just one.

2.  Teachers are Researchers

Teachers in Singapore are required to conduct research every year in their schools.  Teachers work in groups on a research projects that are then presented to the universities.  Many of the research projects are published in academic journals and top teacher researchers receive awards for their work.  In Shanghai, classroom teachers are also required to do research in their schools which often gets published.  In both systems teachers are given ample time in their school day to work on their projects, resulting in less time devoted to classroom instruction compared to the average American teacher.

3. Mentoring

In Finland, teacher candidates spend a large part of their university teacher preparation programs in model schools.  These schools are tied to the university and are staffed with very skilled master teachers that coach and model research based teaching practices.  In some cases, mentoring programs are extended to the first and second year teachers to continue to help them better their teaching practice.

4. Career Ladders

Shanghai and Singapore have created formal career ladders for teacher to advance through the profession.  Teachers each have an individual plan based on their long-term aspirations of continuing in the classroom, becoming an administrator or a becoming a policy leader.  These systems recognize that relevant professional development looks different for each level of teacher on the career ladder, and can tailor the sessions so that they have the biggest impact.  The formal labels recognize excellent teachers by labeling the top level as master teachers, and give classroom teachers a title to aspire towards.

All the systems studied implemented these four basic principles in some form.  They took research based ideas and manipulated them to fit within their local context.  The policies may not be able to be explicitly copied from one country or state to another due to the vast cultural and contextual differences, but the sharing of successful ideas can create a generally more informed policy.   Now the question is, how can the United States use these ideas to take our teachers to the next level?


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