Social literacy lessons from an anti-bullying conference

By Anne Collier

This is genuine progress. My thanks to Lisa Jones at the University of New Hampshire for pointing me to the recent Beyond Bullying Summit‘s “top three takeaways.” Notably, they’re all about social literacy:

* “SEL [social-emotional learning] is not adding to your plate. It is the plate,” said clinical psychology Ed Dunkelblau, director of the Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning.
* “Effective SEL programming includes teachers, administrators, school staff, families, and
students alike. It must be practiced by
”everybody with a face,”
said psychologist Marc Brackett, director of the Yale University Center for Emotional Intelligence and creator of the Ruler Approach program.
* “Helping kids understand and like themselves is a precursor to [their] understanding others. We can do these things in the common core curriculum, in social studies, science, and math class,” said professor Ernest Morrell at Columbia University. This statement was truly wonderful to see.

When these three takeaways become common knowledge and are applied in schools everywhere, society will go farther than it ever has in alleviating a problem that has been with us probably longer than there have been schools. It’s not the complete solution. The adults in their lives outside of school have a key role to play. Until adults at home, in the news, in online communities, etc., themselves stop engaging in social aggression and bullying, children will continue to echo adult behaviors. But including SEL in school, pre-K-12, will help children who are exposed to adult social aggression in their lives or in the media to get some perspective on and emotional distance from the negative examples the adults set.

So SEL in schools isn’t the complete solution to bullying, but it’s a great foundation to build on – and I’m sure you know by now it has positive effects other than bullying prevention.

Multiple benefits

“Joseph Durlak has done truly ground-breaking” work, Dr. Jones, associate professor of psychology at UNH, wrote me, “showing that SEL does the following:

* “Increases positive attitudes about self, others, and school
* “Increases pro-social behaviors
* “Reduces conduct disorder problems
* “Reduces depression and anxiety
* “Improves academic performance.

“All of these problems are linked to both bullying behavior and victimization, so it stands to reason that if we can make a difference with these, bullying should improve,” but there’s even more reason for widespread adoption of social-emotional learning: “to increase school safety, reduce peer victimization and improve child well-being and functioning in general,” Jones adds. “SEL approaches this broad goal much better than a stand-alone bullying prevention program.”

Solid evidence

And we’re already seeing results. Psychologist Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, wrote me that, “after just one year of training in emotional intelligence, students in classes who adopted RULER, our emotional intelligence intervention, compared to standard-of-care classrooms, had greater levels of engagement, fewer conduct and behavior problems, and more respectful and caring interactions among teachers and students.”

In a recent report from EU Kids Online, the authors wrote that “risk and resilience go hand in hand, as resilience can only develop through exposure to risks or stressful events.” But I have a feeling – and would love to see it tested – that it’s not only exposure to adversity that develops resilience, but possibly also the development of social-emotional literacy. Because all those bulleted benefits up there seem also to spell resilience, the lifelong intrinsic protection we want so much for our kids.

Related links

* The huge impact of little meta-moments: Watch this 3:43 video to see how SEL works, as described by elementary school students, teachers, and administrators. Here‘s another one about classroom charters.
* The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning has just released “The 2013 Guide to Effective [evidence-based] SEL Programs.” A well-known one you may’ve heard of is Seattle-based Committee for Children’s Second Step program for pre-K-8.
* About social literacy as currency for change agents, media literacy as protection in a digitally networked worlds, and how they’re both inseparable from digital literacy

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