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Extension > Youth Development Insight > July 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

SEL and children's mental health - What can we teach each other?

cari-michaels.jpgWhat does children's mental health (CMH) have to do with social and emotional learning (SEL)? How can we draw connections between these two areas of work so that children learn better and are healthier?

Viewing children's mental health as a public health issue brings common ground to this conversation. Public health encourages us to look beyond a child and a specific diagnosis toward dynamic, ecological systems in which both CMH and SEL are influenced.

A child's mental health status is influenced by her internal state, but also by experiences within her family, school or community. A child's mental health at a given time may be affected as much by parental conflict or community violence as by a diagnosed condition.

The public health approach emphasizes optimal mental health for everyone, not just those who are sick. We all have a state of mental health that changes throughout our lives - sometimes it may include a diagnosis and sometimes not. The idea of mental health promotion underscores the importance of motivating and supporting all children in striving toward their own version of optimal health.

Sometimes "mental health" is confused with "mental illness", but these two are not the same, nor are they opposite ends of one spectrum. The figure below, published in Promoting Youth Mental Health through the Transition from High School, illustrates two dimensions creating four quadrants - children can experience good mental health with a diagnosis, and poor mental health without a diagnosis. And, importantly for the work of SEL and CMH practitioners, children both with and without illness can reach an optimal level of mental health.optimal-mental-health.jpgIn her blog post "Essential ingredients of social and emotional learning", Kate Walker illustrates the five core SEL competencies of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework in a nutrition chart - one "serving" of a youth program includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills, and responsible decision-making. Clearly these core competencies are essential to good mental health.

A public health practitioner would view these "ingredients" as protective factors - they help children maintain good mental health during ordinary days, and also when they experience adversity. Children with mental illness don't necessarily lack these competencies -- in fact, managing their illness may require advanced skills in areas such as self-awareness and self-management.

To some, teaching SEL concepts aims to maximize learning, but to many, including Dr. Gil Noam in his May, 2014 presentation Social and Emotional Learning: Assess It to Address It, SEL is used more and more in broad ways to improve health. Both SEL and CMH practitioners are interested in promoting healthy relationships, responsible decision-making, and good citizenship. These skills can be taught in many realms of that ecological setting - after-school programs, community centers, clinics, etc.

So how can we shift both our perspective of mental illness and our approaches to social and emotional learning and mental health service delivery to better serve kids? Does a public health framework help us get there? What might be our next steps?

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Going from teaching veteran to expert teacher

Nicole-Pokorney.jpgThe more I research and study the facets of teaching, the more I am aware that we as educators don't always apply the same methods of reflection on ourselves as we do to the youth we serve. Do we study to be scholarly teachers? Do we understand the scholarship of teaching as it pertains to our professional development and promotion? Do we take the time to dive deep into reflection to become experts in our teaching?

Over the last few years, I have been studying the art of teaching and reflective practice as a nonformal educator. In his book, Becoming a Reflective Teacher, Robert J. Marzano and his team from the Marzano Research Laboratory compare the development of an expert teacher to that of an athlete. "Just as athletes wanting to improve their skills must identify personal strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and engage in focused practice to meet those goals, teachers must also examine their practices, set growth goals, and use focused practice and feedback to achieve those goals. These reflective practices are essential to the development of expertise in teaching."

Bowden describes the scholarship of teaching as "centered on student learning" and an "act of excellent teaching." Glassick defines scholarship of teaching further to include that the work must be public, available for peer review and critique, and must be able to be reproduced and used by other educators (p. 879). Kreber describes, "The scholarship of teaching and learning, or professionalism in teaching, therefore, needs to be conceptualized broadly and integrate the notion of professionalism..."

Through this literature review, I summarized a list of indicators for scholarship of teaching that are within the reach of all nonformal educators:
  • Develop a teaching philosophy compass.jpg
  • Continually question everything we do in the learning environment
  • Ask for peer review of educational materials
  • Use course evaluations
  • Watch others teach
  • Participate in a curriculum review committee
  • Take part in philosophical discussions on student learning
  • Read scholarly works related to teaching pedagogy
  • Attend teaching conferences
  • Share information with colleagues
  • Transform learning through critical reflection from evaluations and teaching journal
  • Create a teaching portfolio
After each teaching opportunity, I now use my teaching experience, as well as participant data, to reflect on the session and meticulously make revisions to program content and methods of presentation, as well as prepare for my next teaching opportunity. I developed a personal teaching diary, solicit participant feedback, developed my teaching philosophy, and pursue opportunities to gain new knowledge of teaching techniques.

Do you consider yourself a scholarly teacher? What are the techniques you use to improve your skills as an educator?
-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Did you ask a good question today?

"Inquisitive minds are the safeguards of our democracy, now and forever." - John Barell

John Barell, in his book Developing More Curious Minds, tells stories of how the adults in his life nurtured curiosity: his mother, who at the close of a day always asked him not "What did you learn at school today?" but rather: "Did you ask a good question today?" His grandfather often began a sentence with the words: "Johnny, have you ever wondered..."

Barell states that the questions of young people are the attainment of the highest thinking skills; questions signal thought processing. As adults, listening to questions and thoughtfully responding and guiding young people to discover their own answers takes time and skill.

Asking questions and defining problems is, in fact, the first practice of the eight practices of science and engineering, as defined in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. The framework identifies the key scientific ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school. As adults who work with young people in a wide variety of settings, we can help build this practice, a critical component of scientific literacy.

Most importantly, model the asking of open-ended questions and wondering out loud. Foster an atmosphere in your program that honors the importance of posing questions. Make observations and pose "I wonder..." questions aloud.

Digging deeper, the framework offers progressions for each practice. Use it to consider how we can help young people engage in this practice, regardless of the content area.

In grades K-2, guide young people to:

  • Ask questions based on observations to find more information about the natural and/or designed world(s).
  • Ask and/or identify questions that can be answered by an investigation.
  • Define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

With 3rd-5th graders:

  • Ask questions about what would happen if a variable is changed.
  • Identify scientific (testable) and non-scientific (non-testable) questions.
  • Ask questions that can be investigated and predict reasonable outcomes based on patterns, such as cause and effect relationships.

With 6th-8th graders:

  • Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.
  • Ask questions to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables and relationships in models.
  • Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of your program setting with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis.

For additional detail, as well as progressions for 9-12th grade, refer to the practice matrix.

While this is just a quick trek into the first of the eight practices, I hope you will be curious to discover more about building the practices into your programming! Try this: Think of a favorite project or activity in your setting (maybe it's the tried and true volcano experiment, a bridge-building challenge, a cooking activity, or an outdoor exploration). What are one or two ideas you have for encouraging young people to ask and explore their own questions? What's an "I wonder..." question you have about this project? What might you investigate?

I'd love to hear your ideas for implementing this first practice in your program!

Albert Einstein would remind us: "The important thing is not to stop questioning."

Anne Stevenson, Extension educator and Extension professor

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Essential ingredients of social and emotional learning

kate-walker.jpgRather than delivering a separate SEL curriculum, a recent issue of Social Policy Report proposes that schools integrate the teaching and reinforcement of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills into educators' daily interactions and practices.

Using a food metaphor, the authors describe this as a shift "from a focus on packaged, branded product (curriculum) to the essential ingredients like vitamins and minerals (essential and beneficial strategies)." I think a strategies approach is more in sync with how SEL ought to be framed in out-of-school settings as well.

Blending techniques

So what are some of the "essential ingredients" for promoting SEL? The report outlines four strategies for integrating SEL into daily practice:
  • Routines - Routines that promote SEL skills like emotional regulation (e.g., "Stop and Stay Cool," a three-step process for staying in control of emotions) and conflict resolution (e.g., the "Peace Path," a process in which both parties state their feelings and come to a mutually agreeable solution).
  • Training and Support for Staff - Help staff interact positively with youth, react effectively to emotional and social challenges, communicate clear expectations, and set up conditions for positive climates.
  • Support for Adults' Own SEL Skills - Not all staff naturally possess SEL competencies themselves; They need ongoing discussion and reflection. This edutopia blog post offers five suggestions for how adult staff can build their own SEL skills.
  • SEL Standards - Benchmarks provide guidance on the kinds of SEL skills that need to be fostered in everyday practice. They also play a role in guiding assessment and the use of data to improve practice.

Flavor enhancers

Another way to frame "essential ingredients" is with the S.A.F.E. practices found to effectively enhance social and emotional competencies (Durlak & Weissberg, 2013):
  • S - Sequenced - A planned set of activities to develop SEL skills in a step-by-step fashion.
  • A - Active - Active forms of learning where youth practice SEL skills.
  • F - Focused - Sufficient time and attention devoted exclusively to SEL skill development.
  • E - Explicit - Specific SEL skills are defined and targeted.

Active ingredient

Developmental relationships have been characterized as the "active ingredient" - the critical component responsible for producing desired outcomes in programs. Developmental relationships are interactions with the following features:
  • Connection - Interacting with mutually positive or appropriate emotions; Being in-tune.
  • Reciprocity - Balancing youth-adult roles and power.
  • Progression- Presenting incremental challenge matched with appropriate support; Scaffolding.
  • Participation - Inviting and involving all youth; Belonging.
What do you think of this shift from curricula to strategies and practices? What "essential ingredients" do you use to promote social and emotional learning in your program setting? Do you agree that developmental relationships are the "active ingredient" of effective programs?

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.
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