Eric Twadell

Eric Twadell, PhD, is superintendent of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. He has been a social studies teacher, curriculum director, and assistant superintendent for leadership and organizational development.

Promoting Social and Emotional Learning Within a PLC

Who among us doesn’t remember Stuart Smiley, Al Franken’s character from Saturday Night Live (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”) While Stuart may not have been able to help Michael Jordan develop a stronger sense of self-esteem, his persistent affirmations reflect very well the misunderstanding that educators have long held on how to help students be successful. For far too long, educators have worshipped at the altar of self-esteem theory, wrongly believing that if we can simply help students feel better about themselves, their reading, writing, and arithmetic will improve. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Florida State University professor Dr. Roy Baumeister recently completed a meta-analysis of more than 15,000 scientific studies and found that researchers “have failed to show that having high self-esteem does anything for you: It doesn’t improve your grades or career achievement, reduce alcohol usage, lower the incidence of violent behavior, or translate into higher estimates by others of a person’s intelligence, beauty, or virtue.”

It is not as if educators have not known this for a while now. A striking example is a 1994 study of the mathematical skills of students in eight different countries. Students in the United States ranked lowest in mathematical ability, while Korean students ranked highest. However, when asked to rate how good they believed they were in mathematics, American students ranked highest and Korean students ranked lowest. Researchers questioned whether “mathematical ability had an inverse relationship to mathematical accomplishment.”

The misunderstanding of what self-esteem is and how to help a child develop a positive self-image extends beyond the classroom. A few months ago, my daughter’s soccer team finished second in the league playoffs, and the girls received a beautiful two-foot tall trophy proclaiming them “Second Winners!”  My daughter didn’t quite know how to respond. “What does Second Winner mean, Daddy?” I almost felt guilty saying, “It means that you lost. Your team came in second place. Now let’s talk about how hard you played and areas that you might be able to improve upon for next year.” While I sincerely hope that my daughter develops a positive and strong self-image, I am not convinced that never failing at anything is going to help.

John Maynard Keynes wrote, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as escaping old ones.” Fortunately, there is a seismic shift occurring in our profession as educators working in professional learning community schools (PLCs) are realizing that just focusing on a child’s self-esteem is not enough.  With the same passion and intensity that teachers are bringing to helping students learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, in many PLCs teachers are working diligently to help ensure students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) as well.

One school, Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, has been working with Daniel Goleman and CASEL (The Collaborative on Social and Emotional Learning). As the author of Emotional Intelligence (1995), Goleman proposed that while a student’s IQ has been the traditional bellwether of future success, achievement, and happiness, a more important measure is EQ—a person’s ability to understand oneself and others. Working closely with CASEL, Stevenson has adopted the following SEL objectives:

  1. Self-Awareness: Helps students identify and recognize their emotions, recognize strengths in themselves and others, and have a sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence
  2. Self-Management: Aids students in controlling impulses, managing stress, staying persistent and motivated, and setting and achieving goals
  3. Social Awareness: Assists students in developing a sense of empathy, respect for others, and the ability to see and appreciate divergent points of view
  4. Relationship Skills: Helps students learn how to cooperate and collaborative with others, develop a willingness to seek and provide help when needed, and communicate effectively
  5. Responsible Decision Making: Enables students to develop the ability to evaluate their thoughts and actions, reflect on their behavior, and develop a sense of ethical responsibility

There are many educators who claim to be proponents of teaching students important SEL skills (i.e., “I don’t teach history, I teach students”), but it is a very difficult thing to do. While there may be more than one way to help develop a strong schoolwide SEL curriculum, working as a PLC, the teachers at Stevenson have begun to develop SEL targets in the same way they have created learning targets and assessments for their academic subject areas. The SEL committee has adopted a schoolwide SEL assessment to collect data on students’ SEL and progress at least once during each of their four years, and teachers regularly assess students in light of the course-specific SEL targets. SEL also plays a vital role in the RTI process, as student support teams examine SEL assessment data when considering supports and interventions for students who might be experiencing academic and/or behavioral problems.

Schools that function as PLCs are in a much stronger position to take on the challenges of creating a robust SEL curriculum and assessment system. Using the same skills of collective inquiry and action research, and a strong commitment to collaboration, teachers in a PLC can help students develop essential life skills in the same way that they learn core academic subjects. For those of us who are convinced that student learning and achievement cannot be solely defined by a grade point average and how well students performed on the state and national tests, working within a PLC to develop a strong SEL curriculum is an exciting and wonderful way to help students learn the essential life skills necessary for productive citizenship and meaningful relationships beyond the walls of our schools.



Am I the only one who doesn't want a White Dress?

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I too am currently learning about PLC in my master's education class. Although I am new to this in class, on my job we have been practicing this concept since day one but in a different perspective. I don't think that some of the teachers view this method as a means of teaching the essential life skills nor using the method as a means of developing relationships beyond the classroom instead of misbehaving. I am very interested in learning more about SEL. Although I teach preschool, I would love to implement some effective skills in my class.

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I am currently learning about PLC in my master's education class, and I think this concept is amazing. The school where I taught for the past two years has ONLY adopted these practices when they did not meet annual yearly progress consistently and was forced by the state to reform. If PLC is the norm in all schools, then a lot of the educational problems that triggered NCLB would be eliminated. I also agree, that once teachers are in a PLC they can more effectively teach the whole student (academics, social and emotional well-being). Great blog!

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Will Syrie

I am very interested in learning more about SEL's. What is the best way to get started in implementing this program. Being able to see the standards and targets set up by the teachers at Adlai E. Stevenson High School would be a great way to peak some interest at my own school.

I have personally been struggling with ways to get my students to want to learn and gain some intrinsic motivation. Setting up some SEL's in my school would get me started.

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I teach at a small rural school in Northern California. We have 17 teachers and 200 students at our site. As part of our on-going collaboration to improve student academic learning, student social and character development, and student intervention techniques, we have developed a three-tiered intervention process that begins with a referral form. The intervention process is called "ASPIRE" and stands for Assess (academics and behavior), Synthesize (whole student data), Plan (an intervention strategy), Implement (appropriate interventions), Reassess (student progress) and Excel! The ASPIRE Intervention Meeting (AIM) is a weekly meeting where stakeholders (teachers, counselors, administrators) discuss the needs of the referred student and plan interventions and support strategies. Follow-up is scheduled as necessary. This process brings teachers together. The whole staff is engaged in helping the whole student. Tier 1 includes general education strategies to help the student. Tier 2 involves targeted instruction. Tier 3 is a referral to have the student evaluated for a 504 or IEP. The ASPIRE process is part of our professional learning community and a response to the intervention needs we documented after assessing student work. Fortunately we were able to escape our old ideas in order to enhance our students' learning.

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Shelly Rogers

I agree that SEL is vital to the success of a child. When we speak about educating students we must not stop at just academics. We must incorporate all factors including the emotional and social aspects that affect all learners. If educators can tap into these key elements and transform the thinking of a student, postive results will happen. I believe by focusing on both academics and SEL, teachers would truly be teaching to the "whole child". Thus, we will have created a postive productive member of this democratic society who hopefully will embrace education intrinsically and strive to excel. Additionally, educators who participate in a PLC are also strengthening their SEL as well. Teachers would then become models who are definitely "practicing what they preach".

I am very interested in learning what Adlai E. Stevenson High School is using as targets and assessments for SEL. I am very excited about this and would like to begin exploring this concept in my school.

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I found this blog to be extremely informative. I was one, who believed that a high self-esteem was directly correlated with performance levels, but after reading this blog I completely agree that it in fact, has very little correlation. Although a student who may have high self esteem may be more eager to participate in classroom activities, it does not necessarily mean that that same student performs well within that subject. I also agree that society often pushes that everyone is a winner, when in all reality; I feel that it is important for children to realize that that may not always be the winner or the best. It would be extremely effective to teach students that coming in at a different place can allow you to determine and reflect on areas of weakness and therefore create a plan of action for growth.
As a newer teacher, I feel that creating a SEL curriculum would be extremely exciting as well as beneficial to all of my students. I consistently find myself creating lessons or beginning lectures on life skills. Students should learn to be responsible for their actions, behaviors, and success by developing essential life skills. This is a program that I feel would be beneficial to present to my team. An easy to access curriculum could be used efficiently and effectively in the classroom on a day to day basis.

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Kristen VDB

I am a 5th and 6th grade Special Education teacher in a small suburban school district. The social/emotional aspect of teaching is something that is new to me. Let me elaborate. I was moved to a new position this year teaching student that have many needs than what I was used to. I spent the first few weeks of school driving academics and getting no where. Frustrated, I sat down with the school counselor discussing why I am not getting any where. We decided to start a social group at lunch time that really focused on social skills building. I observed the lunch and recess success and began to carry it over into my classroom as well. The lunch group also really helped in the afternoon piece of my teaching because my students weren’t coming in from recess upset about a bullying issue or that no one would play with them at recess.
Seeing the positive change, I began really focusing on my student’s emotional needs and how to best help them. We talked about how they were feeling on any given day. We strategized on now only how they were feeling but how their actions made others feel. I even began in talking about ways of forming friends and setting up play dates outside of school. I found that this helped my students tremendously.
Once, the social/emotional piece improving, I saw their focus on academic improve as well. It also really helped that they knew they had a trusting relationship in me. I began to see their academics grow. Students with special needs really need to know and trust that their teacher believes in them. Once this piece is taken care of often the academics begin to come a little easier. I found what you had to share extremely interesting. Thanks!

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I am discovering as an educator in an alternative setting, that our students really struggle, in a lot of cases, with appropriate social and emotional interactions. In our efforts to reach students where they are and differentiate our instruction to meet their varying learning styles, it is important to keep in mind their social and emotional health. I think, as teachers, it is great for us to foster environments that, not only, promote learning, but also life. Just like math skills, social skills and emotional awarenesses, will be tools that they use throughout their life. Furthermore, I believe that a number of the challenges that we see from individual students (i.e. behavior and lack of motivation) are rooted in their inability to interact appropriately with others and build positive relationships.

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