October 2011

On Teaching

In my teaching experiences, I have tried to emulate the professors and teachers I have admired in my life: those who opened their office doors and inboxes for students’ late night anxieties, were excited by students’ introductions of paradoxes and contradictions, treated us like inchoate thinkers who needed guidance, rather than as literate sheep to be herded. I had only a few professors who didn’t value students as critical thinkers, but they sorely stick out in my mind as unfortunate members of the profession.

Social Emotional Learning for 21st Century Learners

RULER, and "social emotional learning" attempt to focus on students EQ in an increasingly interconnected world.

One of the greatest oversights in modern education, many experts agree, is learning that supports development of students’ Emotional Quotient, or emotional intelligence. This includes coping skills for intense emotions, promoting empathy, and understanding and using social cues. Experts point to the increasingly interconnected and multicultural nature of the workplace and social environment of the 21st century, and the necessity in building an evolved EQ in students through concerted education. One development in this area includes “social emotional learning”, or SEL. Marc Brackett, a Yale researcher with the Health, Emotion, and Behavior Lab has developed a teacher-training program for SEL called RULER. As reported in GOOD, RULER “instructs teachers in the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for emotional health, then helps them shift the focus to children.”

RULER focuses on five key principles; “recognizing emotions in oneself and others, understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, labeling the full range of emotions, expressing emotions appropriately in different contexts, and regulating emotions effectively to foster relationships and achieve goals.” These sound like skilsl that should be well-developed by the time one reaches adulthood, but culturally speaking, many of these skills were never present within the formal education structure growing up, so SEL training truly is beginning at the start, so to speak. Once the RULER program has been implemented in a school, it promotes the integration of SEL into other curricular areas and classrooms. By taking a concerted and conscientious approach emotional intelligence education, SEL-oriented training hopes to foster principles of integrity, responsibility, leadership, and empathy in students beginning at a young age and building upon them as children age.

Brackett has begun a long-term study of RULER in schools, 10 years in scope, to measure the long-term effectiveness of the program. In the short term, RULER has already been adopted in hundreds of schools across the country. Present research shows that children from RULER-classrooms score 11 percent better on average and have 17% fewer behavioral issues. In addition, a New York school that serves a high number special needs students attributes a 60% decrease in behavioral issues to the RULER program.

SEL is an important component of a child’s whole-person education, and though it may not always necessitate such a structured approach as the RULER program, it should still be conscientious effort on the part of teachers and administration. Of course, in an era of extremely tight budgets and shifting educational priorities, it may be difficult for many schools to adopt a program like RULER to the extent that it would need to be effective.

Great Halloween Field Trips

Our homeschool groups and 4-H club are so busy this month, it’s no wonder we haven’t had a free weekend since September! There are so many different ways to learn and explore in October, my favorite month of the year. Here are just a few great ideas for October and Halloween-related field trips for your classroom, youth group, homeschool group, or other club.

High School Labels

I worked at a high school this year. I remember how early on in high school, or middle school, for that matter, we were all boxed in to our abilities, or, if you weren't so lucky, our problems. I was the singer because I'd had the lead in the 7th grade musical. Tommy was the troubled kid because he got detention all the time. Carolyn was smart because she was Jewish and her parents were doctors.

Never Saw a Vending Machine a Kid Didn’t Like… Until Now

You can lead a kid to a healthy alternative vending machine, but you can’t make ‘em buy.

The obesity epidemic in the U.S. is well-documented, with health analysts and pediatricians saying that the upcoming generation, one marked by rampant childhood obesity, could be the first one in the country’s history not to outlive their parents’. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, initiated her own campaign to fight childhood obesity, but schools have become involved too. Many school districts flout their lunch menus now, filled with healthy (even organic) versions of the old cafeteria staples. In many secondary schools, junior highs and high schools, administration has replaced some of the old junk food vending machines with health food vending machines. Rather than the old standbys like candy and potato chips, these new vending machines contain fresh fruits and vegetables, hummus, and other nutritious snacks. Schools are finding out, however, that you can lead a child to a healthy alternative, but you can’t make them eat it.