These days, any mainstream discussion of the latest wave of school reform involves the Common Core Learning Standards (CCSS). http://www.corestandards.org . As districts and schools wrestle with implications arising from new expectations, the learning needs of the recipients of all those efforts (ie. students) are – once again – only partially represented. Explicit standards and expectations about content mastery are, unfortunately, still focused on matters of the head rather than balanced with matters of the heart.
It turns out that those two dimensions of learning are inextricably linked. Leading educational leaders agree that the very achievement we so prize and so rigorously assess will never be reached without a balanced focus on building skills that support the process of learning as well as content mastery; without an approach that builds upon social and emotional competence as an essential foundation for cognitive growth – that embraces and addresses learning from a Whole Child perspective.
Common Core Defined
Webster’s Dictionary definition of Core: “The central, innermost or most essential part of anything.” From: old French: Coeur – Heart.
Common: Shared by two or more people.
Whole: Entire. Undivided. In one piece.
Common Core Learning accurately defined: Supporting learning for the Whole Child through integrating cognitive skill development and social and emotional skill development.
It is time we insist upon an educational system that leverages what good science tells us: Attending to the wholeness of students with a deep understanding of how Head and Heart work together is the only path that connects academic success to life success. Centering educational practice on what research tells us works to promote deep understanding, meaningful connections, and new insights (for students AND for the adults who work with them) is the real CORE of teaching and learning. And, those practices must include the intentional development of fundamental social and emotional skills in order to leverage strengths and learning opportunities for the whole child. There is now a solid (and growing) base of research literature on the critical role social and emotional skills play in achieving cognitive functioning that leads to academic success.
Social and Emotional Learning at the CORE
So, if social and emotional learning (SEL) is the real CORE of education, we need a shared understanding of what social and emotional skills are and what facilitates their 2
development. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been actively advancing the science and rigor of social and emotional learning for nearly two decades. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13398/education-for-life-and-work-developing-transferable-knowledge-and-skills
Social and emotional skills have been variously defined – but, generally, they fall within the categories of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, goal-directed behavior, personal responsibility, decision-making, and optimistic thinking. Neuroscience and educational research tell us that each of these constructs has profound impact upon the learning process. Rigorous program evaluation tells us that all of these skills can be taught. And, just as importantly, we now know that every one of these skills can be measured and monitored for progress over time using scientifically designed tools.
Assessment vs Measurement
It is unfortunate that measurement / assessment has received a bad rap since No Child Left Behind forced schools to value summative outcomes over formative processes – giving weight to test scores based on deficits rather than progress based on strengths. Making shared standards explicit and setting common goals has brought intentionality to public education that was sorely needed. However, where policy has failed is in a narrow (and, often, developmentally unsound) perspective of how best to reach those outcomes. It is when assessment becomes an end destination rather than a means to inform that it has the potential to obscure the person under the data. Timely and responsive skill development depends on on-going and actionable information about strengths and areas of need – information that can only be supplied by valid and reliable assessment tools.
Our narrow definition of “success” has gutted good schools and good teachers by discounting what accomplished educators have always known – classroom learning and academic success isn’t something that is done to another. Rather, it is an on-going process that results from the confluence of the right balance of rigor and relationships; of support and perseverance; of collaboration and independence; of caring and challenge; of an optimistic mindset paired with deep knowledge and solid skills. Good science tells us that comprehensive measurement is critical to an informed and responsive educational system that is designed to meet needs of the heads and the hearts of both students and teachers.
Devereux Student Strengths Assessment
Fortunately, we now have scientifically sound measurement tools that are available to provide actionable information about critical social and emotional constructs. The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) is a teacher observation scale that provides foundational information about how students are using social and emotional skills to support their learning processes.
This thoughtfully developed and well-researched tool provides a number of essential functions: a baseline screening for identifying student strengths and areas for instruction; user-friendly classroom strategies for developing new skills while building on existing strengths; multiple versions of a progress monitoring tool that informs teacher efforts and 3
provides real-time data for both individual and group action; and valid and reliable assessment of outcomes. The DESSA is a measurement system that provides educators – when used in conjunction with academic measures – with a balanced look at how we are preparing students for both school and life
See Apperson; http://www.apperson.com
And the Center for Resilient Children:
Balanced and Integrated System Approach
We need both rich academic content and a rich learning environment that is nurtured by personal and professional competence. We need teachers and principals and parents and school districts and governmental agencies and policy makers that understand the absolute imperative that we can no longer afford an either-or approach. Addressing both the academic and social and emotional growth of students through a data-informed, balanced, and integrated approach must become the Common Core of our educational efforts if we are to reach our ultimate goal of lifelong success for all children.
Other Blogs and Posts
Greater Good: Is Social-Emotional Learning a Luxury?
Greater Good: Does SEL Make the Grade?
EdSource: Social and emotional learning gaining more focus under Common Core
About the Author
Sheryl L. Harmer, Ed.D., specializes in social and emotional strategy and skill development, school improvement, and community-wide systems change. Harmer’s thirty–year career in public schools included serving as principal of three award-winning elementary schools; K-12 teacher and learning specialist; instructor in community college and university teacher and principal preparation programs; and service on a wide range of professional advisory councils and boards. Following her public school career, Sheryl was the Director of Program Development for 6+ years at Committee for Children – a Seattle-based social enterprise – where she led the development of social and emotional learning programs that are acclaimed by research experts and used by educators in over 20 countries.
Harmer’s thirty–year career in public schools included serving as principal of three award-winning elementary schools; K-12 teacher and learning specialist; instructor in community college and university teacher and principal preparation programs; and service on a wide range of professional advisory councils and boards. Following her public school career, Sheryl was the Director of Program Development for 6+ years at Committee for Children – a Seattle-based social enterprise – where she led the development of social and emotional learning programs that are acclaimed by research experts and used by educators in over 20 countries.