Social and emotional learning (SEL), a fast-growing movement in education that seeks to support students beyond academics, has reached the Worcester (Massachusetts) school district, telegram.com reported.
The local School Committee received an update on the progress of a new department, the social-emotional learning division, from Maura Mahoney.
Mahoney described the comprehensive efforts led by the department, “It’s not really one single program . . . It’s about teaching the whole child—it’s a universal approach.”
Mahoney’s focus on “teaching the whole child” is evidence of why SEL initiatives have taken root across the country. Many see the movement as a much-needed return to some of the core purposes of education, namely those related to the development of students as persons, and not just as scholars.
The social-emotional learning division administers a variety of programs commensurate with the breadth of their goals: mindfulness exercises, positive behavioral interventions, conflict resolution, and student trauma support.
Mahoney notes that while some of the topics or programs covered in SEL can seem intuitive, educators can never take for granted that students have built fundamental social or emotional skills.
She said the department’s work in positive behavioral interventions aims to address things like, “this is what walking in the halls looks like, this is what playing at recess looks like, because not everyone has been taught those things.”
The fact that the Worcester school district, and others, have devoted entire departments to implementing SEL is an indicator of how seriously the movement is being taken. In part, this uptake can be read as an appreciation of the movement’s goals.
Mahoney emphasized that SEL “comes back to school culture and climate.”
James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and author of The Death of Character, has also emphasized the importance of culture, “Whether it is provided formally or informally, deliberately or unwittingly, moral instruction . . . is an exercise in the transmission of culture. It is a mechanism by which character is etched into a person’s identity and existence.”
Hunter and Mahoney’s insistence on the importance of culture is a reminder of the reason that so many educators got into the job in the first place. Obviously, strong student academic achievement ranks high at the top of their goals, but for many there was also a desire to help students learn and grow as people.
Generating that particular type of growth requires an understanding and appreciation for the importance of culture.
Students spend significant portions of their days in school, and whether or not school leaders are intentional, the school will mold students’ beliefs, behaviors, and attachments.
For those who long for their children to develop wisdom, alongside intelligence, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a guide for educators that makes practical wisdom the core, with SEL in service of that end. A school culture and climate that nurtures SEL in pursuit of practical wisdom is one that will help its students navigate a fast-changing world.
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