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Prominent misperceptions about social and emotional learning

Dale-Blyth.jpgA New York Times opinion piece published this week is titled, "Can we teach personality?" This is the wrong question in so many ways.

First, it's not about teaching personality but helping to equip youth with the skills they need in life - academic, social and emotional. These skills can be learned and should be -- not as a one size fits all or by forcing everyone into one mold. Rather, they should be taught as tools that can be used in navigating learning and life.

They also are, and need to be, taught by parents and expanded community learning opportunities. Like all skills important in life, we cannot and should not leave it to schools alone to help equip our young people.

The article nicely notes Alfie Kohn's comments on the importance of environments and system change. Social and emotional learning (what is mislabeled as personality in the article) is not only taught but also caught -- caught through the contexts they experience every day (including schools). So yes -- environments do matter and we do need to change them, to pay more attention to the multiple factors that matter in learning, including social and emotional factors.

Perhaps what I found most disturbing in the article was the notion that we are only capable of thinking about one thing at a time -- character or academic skills, individuals or systems, etc. The reality of learning is that it is not only complex but emergent. We can neither use a simple recipe nor can we out plan the problem. Our young people are not problems to be solved but developing and learning human beings that we need to equip with multiple sets of skills -- skills we teach, skills we help them learn through authentic experiences, and skills they catch us using in their learning environments. Whenever we try to simplify we miss the point -- it is not about the one thing we need to do or the one way of doing or the one institution responsible, it is about putting it all together in ways that enable young people to succeed in life -- not just in schools or on a test.

When we think about young people and their learning, we immediately see the value of teaching social and emotional skills. We see the value of providing experiences where they can learn by using these skills. And we design and build our learning systems - in school as well as in youth programs after school -- to help model the types of skills and characteristics we want them to learn.

In short, we need to help equip them/get them ready for whatever comes next in learning and life.

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