Teachers-in-training need more instruction on how to develop their own and their students’ social and emotional skills, including the ability to reflect on interactions, empathize with others and calm themselves, according to a report released Thursday by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, an advocacy and research group based in Chicago.
While teacher preparation programs include child development classes, the coursework typically provides no guidance on how teachers can enhance the maturity of their students, according to the report, which surveyed a sample of teacher training programs across the country.
“There was very little on ‘How do you promote self awareness in children? How do you promote empathy?'” said Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an education professor at the University of British Columbia and the lead author of the report.
A teacher’s ability to reflect on his or her role in what is occurring in the classroom is invaluable, Schonert-Reichl said. She remembered a situation when she was a high school teacher. “I had a student who aggravated me, and I thought, why does she aggravate me so much?” she recalled. The answer came to her: “She reminded me of a student in 5th grade who used to bully me – she even looked like her a bit. My reaction was not to the student so much as it was to the past.”
Nancy Markowitz, executive director of the Sunnyvale-based Center for Reaching & Teaching the Whole Child, a teacher training institute, said the report did a service by “shining a light on the importance of social-emotional learning in preservice teacher education.”
Social and emotional learning typically is defined as teaching students the interpersonal skills they need to succeed in school and work. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, this skill-building is meant to unfold in the course of everyday instruction, when teachers pause to encourage students to pose a question in a more respectful tone, imagine how others feel, take a deep breath to calm themselves, break a goal into manageable pieces and more.
A newer focus for the work is to help teachers develop their own skills. Research has shown that teachers are unlikely to be successful at developing students’ self-awareness and self-management skills if they don’t possess those skills themselves, Schonert-Reichl said.
Teaching the how-to’s of social and emotional skill-building is the key to bringing these concepts into classrooms, Markowitz said. “Otherwise, it’s never going to be institutionalized into school settings. The unit of change can’t be only working with school districts.”
One way to integrate social and emotional learning into teacher training, Markowitz said, might look like this: A teacher-in-training asked students in a math class to take a moment to talk about how they felt as they approached a new math lesson. Some students said they were excited. Others said they wanted to crawl under the desk.
That exercise gave the teacher an opening to discuss “self-talk” – the messages we send to ourselves. “She told them, ‘We’re going to take it one step at a time.’ It was a start to developing that internal self-talk, and how they talk to themselves when they come across something that is hard,” she said.
The Center for Reaching & Teaching the Whole Child was named in the report as an “exemplary” program for the way it weaves social and emotional learning into its curriculum for teachers. Also named as “exemplary” was an “Access and Equity in Education” class taught at Chico State University.