Student learning and well-being
Submitted by Patricia Flores-Charter
In 1976 my teaching career began in a small farming town at a school with a diverse population. It was a time of great national and global conflict, much like today. It was a time when creating safe and stimulating classrooms was an essential foundation for increasing learning. Years of research have gone into designing materials that my colleagues and I have used to build community in our classrooms and with our parents. At the time, this teaching area was called affective learning. We have understood the value of providing oral and written experiences in the classroom to reflect on personal and other feelings, to examine why we treat others the way we want to be treated, and what effective communication is and how it will help solve problems. This is how we created a learning environment in which research has shown that the rate of academic learning improves. But our hearts also swelled watching students help others when they saw another student struggling to learn or needing a friend. We have seen students evolve in their empathy, responsibility and maturity.
Fast forward to 1994 when the results of the latest research had the same results and led Yale University to develop a more formal program and curriculum in this area called Social and Emotional Learning. Over the years, national school districts have adopted this curriculum and developed and implemented their own curriculum. This area of teaching is not new. Fast forward to 2022 and the same student needs continue today.
Knowing how important social and emotional development is in learning, I brought my knowledge and materials to Southwestern College in 1992 when I worked in disability support services. Students with disabilities were reluctant to come to college and had low self-esteem. Knowing this, on their first office dates, I told the students that my office was a safe place and that it was my job to listen and help. I have worked with formerly incarcerated students, students with traumatic backgrounds, students for whom learning was easy and those for whom it was extremely difficult. Without my use of social and emotional learning strategies individually and in the classes I taught, I know building trust and community would have been impossible. As the students thanked me for my help, I asked them to just treat others as I had treated them. Going out of their way when they saw someone struggling, someone different struggling and helping them. That without it our civilization would be lost. Our class has become not just a community, but a family of learners.
I hope that parents and community members will study this area of learning, its effectiveness, and work in partnership with our teachers and administrators to support the social-emotional development and learning of our students. When questions or concerns arise, it is essential that teachers are contacted quickly to resolve them. Our children and young adults will also observe quick and effective communication in problem solving, which benefits everyone. They will develop the empathy, civility and responsibility that our citizens need to succeed economically and socially. When all people feel valued and heard, they will be empowered to succeed, which is what social and emotional learning is all about.