Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, Dominique Smith ALL LEARNING IS SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL—Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond
I read this book based on two recent pivoting experiences. The first occurred when both Dr. Douglas Fisher and Dr. Nancy Frey engaged our administrative teams in professional learning. The sessions highlighted teacher clarity and how to deepen our implementation of instructional strategies that have the greatest impact and ultimately better outcomes for kids. The caveat here was they presented on different days, but in my notes, there was a quote they both shared...“All learning is social and emotional.”
The second experienced happened as one of our administrative teams began to plan for what teaching and learning would look like in the Fall of 2020 with the health restrictions of COVID19. This group of dedicated leaders unanimously agreed to start with prioritizing the social and emotional (SEL) student-focused systems first before creating schedules, establishing routines, determining curriculum, etc. All of which are incredibly valuable...but we agreed during the Coronavirus Pandemic our school systems and instructional action steps would be more aligned strategically to support each student’s social and emotional health as a top priority.
Early in the book, the authors shared, “It’s important to stress that social and emotional learning is about more than developing kids who are nice to one another, cooperative in class and civically engage, SEL is an equity issue...It is crucial for schools to implement systems that develop students’ social and emotional skills so that they can carry, practice, and use these throughout their day, at home when the school day is over, and for the rest of their lives” (p. 12). This is our work.
The authors also remind teachers and leaders that successful implementation of SEL programs does not come from a curriculum, a program, or happens by chance. The social and emotional development of the children in our classrooms should occur daily and be intentionally embedded in all that we do. “Their social and emotional development is too important to be an add-on or an afterthought, too important to be left to chance” (p. 17). They organized SEL into five categories that can and should overlap and support each other including; identity and agency, emotional regulation, cognitive regulation, social skills, and public spirit.
We started this work in our school over the past couple of years but not to the depth where we want to be...yet. One of the biggest lessons I learned as a leader was to change our school-wide schedule that prioritized addressing the social and emotional health of our students at the very beginning of the school day. Each class, each child, each teacher gathers in a community circle, where students experience what it feels like to be in an inclusive trusting setting.
In these daily community circles, students are learning to “recognize, express, and regulate their emotions before they can be expected to interact with others” (p. 48) which helps them regulate their learning mindset for the day. In our school, we use the same Zones of Regulation Model the author’s referenced on page 50.
Learning to not only recognize one’s own feelings but how to respond to those feelings is discuss and taught by their classroom teacher. Teachers also frequently use characters found in stories and through role-playing class scenarios to continue to develop their understanding of their own emotions and reactions as well as those of their peers.
This past Spring during our on-line Distance Learning sessions with students each classroom teacher prioritized this practice. Students were given regular opportunities to identify, share, and use “their words” to express their feelings. After actively listening to each other similar to their morning circle routines, students offered suggestions and recommendations on what their peers could do at home to help them refocus or regulate their emotions. Student suggestions to their peers included taking a walk, getting outside, reading a book in a quiet corner, squeezing a squish ball, and on and on it went.
There are many sections in this book that I intend to get back to once we are all back together. Fisher, Frey, and Smith also offered suggestions for restorative practices including questions to ask both the offender and the victim. Metacognition strategies were highlighted by the authors to foster through explicit instruction in order to provide students more opportunities to “think about their thinking.” They also included examples of how we can move students away from learned helplessness towards productive struggle in order to empower our students to leverage their own cognitive resources and skills.
The last chapter of the book provided further ideas on how to purposefully plan for embedding SEL schoolwide. The ideas that most resonated with me and our school community Included building the capacity of others to increase understanding, collecting student, staff, and family data for decision-making, looking for patterns in the data with all stakeholders, and setting and monitoring goals were all important reminders. Although just as important to remember there are many effective SEL programs available but it’s not something you do in isolation but incorporated in all that you do as a cohesive learning community.