I first heard of growth mindset about three years ago when I had to do a mandatory professional development module at the end of the school year for my district. At a time when I am usually run-down and exhausted, this learning exhilarated me: I realized growth mindset could be a game-changer in the classroom. Carol Dweck says, “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
Demand for social-emotional learning (SEL) is growing – but it’s not a new phenomenon. Education experts and policymakers recognize that building healthy relationships and responsible decision-making matters to student outcomes. Most schools are already implementing some type of SEL program or practice, and, in terms of both instructional resources and teacher time, education systems invest heavily in SEL. Moreover, in a recent EdWeek article on the need for SEL in schools, Peter DeWitt shares “staggering statistics” from the American Psychiatric Association, National Institute of Mental Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reveal the high rate at which today’s students suffer from mental illness and trauma.
I think about growth mindset all the time, almost daily. The first time it reveals itself to me is in the morning when my twelve-year-old daughter asks me to braid her hair before school. You see, I’m not good at it. Usually I am rushing through the process because of the stress of weekday mornings and the fact that I know I’m not very good at it.
Advances in many fields—including neuroscience and psychology—have moved the work in social emotional learning (SEL) forward over the last fifteen years. We know that early experiences shape a child’s developing neurological and biological systems for better or worse, and that the types of stressful experiences that are common in families living in poverty can alter children’s neurobiology in ways that undermine their ability to succeed in school and in life (Thompson, 2014).
The learning and life benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL) are well-established (see CASEL research for a few of the most recent SEL research studies). In schools, classroom teachers have opportunities to build SEL competencies and skills — especially in the areas of collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork. Here are some ideas from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) SEL Fellows for classroom teachers interested in creating classroom environments that support relationship skills with peers.
“It turns out that the learning that happens in the 80% of waking hours that are spent out of school (between the ages of 5-18) has as much to do with achievement gaps that show up in school as anything in the school. We can’t expect a 20% solution to solve 100% of the problem; we’ve got to address the inequalities of enrichment and stimulating activities outside of school.” - Professor Paul Reville, Harvard University Graduate School of Education / Education Redesign Lab
In education, we sometimes fall into an acronym trap: ESSA. IEP. ELA. SEL. Or we default to rattling off statistics as shorthand for what we’re really talking about. And sometimes, this kind of secret education code serves us well. It allows us to transmit information efficiently. But it also comes at a price if we forget to balance it out with stories about the humans at the center of our work.
On October 25, 2017, TransformEd co-hosted Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): A Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Opportunity with the Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC). The summit, held in Westborough, Mass., brought together nearly 200 educators throughout the state to highlight the importance of teaching, leading, and learning about SEL.
Over the past six months, I’ve had the great pleasure of traveling to districts across the country to speak with and learn from our new school partners who are committed to integrating important Mindsets, Essential Skills, and Habits (MESH), such as growth mindset and social awareness, into their daily practice. At the start of most of these engagements, educators tend to ask me one question more than any other: “Where do we begin?”
What does social emotional learning look like in the elementary school classroom? How do students develop the mindsets, essential skills and habits necessary for success in school, and in life? Social emotional learning is everywhere. It is all the time. It is invisible, yet you can see it everywhere you turn. And it is essential. Social emotional learning unfolded during the first 20 days of the school year for me and my 3rd graders in Wilmington, Delaware in many ways.