This week is the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA) "National School Counseling Week." Highlighting current trends and resources, Lower School Counselor Elizabeth Drumm offers an overview of the importance of social-emotional learning.
By Elizabeth Drumm
One of the challenges undertaken by educators all over the globe is keeping up with change. Curricula and methods of instruction are constantly being adapted to better teach the ever-evolving skillset our students will need to be successful in the future. But will even the most rigorous academic curriculum be enough? Many experts say no. Academics are only part of the equation.
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a hot topic in education today, as it encompasses a wide range of skills that are linked to academic achievement, behavior, mental health, and social and professional relationships. Being able to regulate one's own emotions, make responsible decisions, and relate well to others are critical life skills that can be expressly taught to children in school and at home. But with so many topics and skills to target, where do parents even begin?
One resource for identifying areas of strength and potential is the Search Institute's list of 40 Developmental Assets for healthy youth development. This is an excellent list of environmental conditions, opportunities, attitudes, behaviors, and values that have all proven through research to be excellent predictors of healthy communities and youth. Another resource for honing in on beneficial skills for young people is a document used by school counselors across the US to drive their practice in schools. The American School Counselor Association's ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success: K-12 College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Every Student include 6 Mindset Standards and 29 Behavior Standards for students. Each of the standards can be applied to any age group and can be reinforced in countless ways by parents at home.
One of the Behavior Standards, for example, is "Demonstrate Empathy." For young children, this starts with learning basic feelings words, like "sad," "mad," "happy" and "scared." Children can then learn to recognize and label these feelings in themselves as they occur before finally tackling the more advanced task of identifying those feelings in others using clues such as facial expressions, situational context, and observed behaviors. Everyday life provides endless "teachable moments" that parents can use to teach emotional literacy. The next time you're at the playground, reading a story, or watching a show, see if your child can identify any feelings in any of the people/characters involved and guess what prompted that feeling or what might come next. Children's books are also a fabulous way to reinforce SEL concepts and literacy simultaneously, not to mention addressing other useful topics relevant to children's experiences.
Each standard on the list of ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors need not be worked on in isolation. In fact, some of the best lessons incorporate multiple standards at once, often disguised as something else. For example, instead of simply asking children what they would like to do on their next family vacation, parents who keep youth development skills in mind might present that question as a fun challenge. Each child might look up information on the chosen vacation destination (Standard B-LS 5: Apply media and technology skills), use that info to develop ideas for family activities available there (Standard B-SMS 3: Demonstrate ability to work independently), and present the ideas in a family meeting (Standard B-SS 1: Use effective oral and written communication skills and listening skills). These sorts of activities usually expose a variety of teachable moments, from coaching siblings through compromises to practicing good internet safety, for instance, and they inspire investment in the project itself (e.g. the family vacation).
Integrating life skill development and social-emotional learning into one's everyday routine does not have to be complicated. Parents who are aware of the kinds of skills that predict students' academic success and personal well being will notice endless examples of them being used in daily life, and they can point them out to their children in the moment or intentionally expose young people to opportunities to practice them. No matter what changes in education and the world transpire over time, the readiness to learn, the ability to self-regulate, and the skill of interacting positively with others will remain key assets and predictors of success in the future.
Salute to school counselors
With an emphasis on social-emotional learning, The Summit Country Day School has dedicated school counselors in each of our Lower School, Middle School and Upper Schools to aid teachers in meeting the developmental needs of children in every age group. We salute the importance of their work this week during National School Counselor's Week.
About the author
Elizabeth Drumm is the Lower School counselor at The Summit Country Day School. She has a master’s degree in school counseling from Xavier University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and German from The Ohio State University.