|Posted by Marilyn Robb on January 4, 2014 at 11:25 AM|
The global changes in societies have put pressures on families and forced the need for educational reforms. The long list of reform efforts worldwide have targeted both programs and processes. Despite the increasing number of curriculum changes and school reform efforts of varying types, the problems in schools seem to persist and even increase. The issues of violence, drop-out, delinquency, low academic performance etc. continue to present huge challenges to all concerned. Part of the reason why these reform efforts do not seem to be effective is because they do not take into account the social and emotional dimensions of educational change.
Emotions and Learning
Emotions do interfere with learning. During any experience in life accompanying emotions are stored in our memory along with the recorded information entering our senses at the time. If these emotions are not dealt with appropriately ( i.e. released by the body’s natural healing processes), these emotions become locked in with the information. When the information is required later the emotions are also pulled up and they can act as controllers of present behaviour. These triggers interfere with our ability to think rationally at the moment, to pay attention and to learn. Classrooms are very re-stimulating environments for both teachers and students. There are many stimuli in the classroom that can trigger locked in feelings.
Whenever a child is worried, anxious, scared or sad the school work is the first area to suffer. At this moment the child’s attention is tied up with these thoughts and emotions and therefore not available for the academic work. The child can still fake it and look like she is paying attention to her school work. She can keep her eyes fixed on the teacher and not be hearing a thing. She can sit in her room for hours with a book opened but only staring at the words. It's only at the end of the term, at test time, that we can see that something has been wrong.
Social and Emotional Learning Skills
Children need help understanding their feelings and making sense of other people's feelings and reactions. They also need help identifying and verbalizing their feelings appropriately. This is the first step in dealing with the feelings. Teachers and parents need to spend time talking to children about their feelings, what caused them and deciding on alternative actions. At the beginning of the school day teachers need to help students clear out any negative feelings they may have brought to school, e.g. something may have happened at home the night before or they may have seen something disturbing on the way to school. Similarly at the end of the school day parents can offer the child the opportunity to talk about what happened in school, so that attention is then available for homework and extra studying.
Educational Reform through SEL
Any effort to improve the classroom environment therefore must take into account the emotional needs of both the students and the teachers. Educational reform efforts have neglected the emotional healing of the teachers necessary for real change to take place. Focusing only on the academics is not enough. Curricula must be broadened to include Social and Emotional Learning skills (Life skills, coping skills, etc.).
In order to improve the social and emotional climate of the classroom therefore requires that students and teachers experience the process of clearing out these stored up emotions so that they can no longer be triggered in the classroom and interfere with good thinking and functioning. Students are then able to focus their attention on the teaching, concentrate better and learn well. Teachers are able to deal effectively with their own emotional triggers and the varied emotional needs of the students in a caring and nurturing way.
School must prepare students to live in a changing world and to guide them to contribute to constructing a peaceful world. If we can put more emphasis on attending to the emotional needs of the child, learning will take place more effectively and efficiently