Submitted by Patricia Flores-Charter
In 1976 my teaching career began in a small farm town at a school with a diverse population. It was a time of great national and world conflict, not unlike today. It was a time when creating safe and nurturing classrooms was critical groundwork for increasing learning. Years of research went into designing materials my colleagues and I used to build community in our classes and with our parents. Back then this area of teaching was called Affective Learning. We understood the value in providing oral and written experiences in class to reflect on personal feelings and those of others, to examine why we treat others as we want to be treated and what effective communication is and how it will help in problem solving. This is how we created a learning environment in which research showed the rate of academic learning improved. But our hearts also swelled watching students helping others when they saw another student struggling in learning or needing a friend. We watched students evolve in their empathy, responsibility, and maturity.
Fast forward to 1994 when the results of the latest research had the same results and lead Yale University to develop a more formal program and curriculum in this area called Social and Emotional Learning. Nationally school districts over the years adopted this program and developed and implemented their own curriculum. This area of instruction is not new. Fast forward to 2022 and the same student needs continue today.
Knowing how important social emotional development is in learning, I brought my knowledge and materials to Southwestern College in 1992 when I worked in Disability Support Services. The students with disabilities were hesitant to come to college and struggled with low self-esteem. Knowing this, during their first office appointments I told students that my office was a safe place and that it was my job to listen and help. I worked with formerly incarcerated student, students with traumatic histories, students for whom learning was easy and those in which it was extremely difficult. Without my use of Social Emotional Learning strategies individually and in the classes I taught, I know that establishing trust and community would have been impossible. As students thanked me for my help, I asked them to simply treat others as I had treated them. To go out of their way when they saw someone struggling, someone different struggling and help them. That without this our civilization would be lost. Our class became not just a community, but a family of learners.
I hope that parents and community members will study this area of learning, its efficacy, and work in partnership with our teachers and administrators to support the social emotional development and learning of our students. As questions or concerns arise it is critical that teachers be contacted quickly to resolve these. Our children and young adults will also observe timely and effective communication in problem solving which benefits us all. They will develop the empathy, civility, and responsibility our citizens need to be economically and socially successful. When all people feel valued and heard, they will be empowered to succeed, which is what Social Emotional Learning is all about.