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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Teaching to the Whole Child: Social and Emotional Learning

All over the world, no matter the country, culture, or society, school systems exist for the betterment of individuals. The term for “culture” came from the Latin word “cultura” and was used originally in agricultural contexts, cultivation of the soil. Schools are the means by which groups cultivate souls by teaching behaviors that become distinct characteristics of its society such as language, customs, and behaviors for socializing within the group. Educational systems are essential to the universal development of our human capacity. Children all over the world will inherit social roles within their society, and schools have the job of preparing them for this future responsibility. Around the globe, and throughout history, leaders have worked to improve education as well as debated its aim, yet one area of growing consensus is in the education of the whole child.

Rooted in the writings and teachings of ancient cultures, teaching to the whole child suggests a balanced educational experience in order to prepare children to contribute and live in a productive way within a society. Some argue that the real gain in the advancement of our societies will come from explicitly adding to the curriculum and teaching human social and emotional skills; allowing teachers and students to interact as whole persons and developing policies that treat the school as a whole community (Noddings,1992).

Personalized learning efforts across the country are being developed that place the whole student at the center of their learning. In the development of the MA Personalized Learning Network, CCE has identified Six Principles of Personalized Learning. Distinct to this framework is a focus on social and emotional learning (SEL).

SEL is defined as the “process for helping children and even adults develop the fundamental skills for life effectiveness. SEL teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically” (CASEL, 2011). These skills include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Social and emotional learning in a school environment encompasses three areas: the culture and climate of the school, explicit skill instruction for students, and modeling of SEL competencies by the adults in the school. While SEL skills are difficult to measure on standardized tests, they have strong implications for student engagement and success in college, career, and life after high school.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed—by educators, school reformers, college professors, employers, and others—to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and workplaces. Core to these and for our future citizenship are social and emotional learning skills such as problem solving, communication, collaboration, and critical decision making. Educators now recognize that in order for students to be fully prepared for success in college, work and life, they must possess more than strong academic skills, but also social and emotional skills.