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Word cloud for Mindfulness

Social –Emotional-Learning (SEL) has been around a long time (1994). The fact that it’s recently gained the attention of the New York Times (11-15-15) suggests the general public’s increased awareness that children’s mental health and resilience can’t be assumed. They have to be carefully taught.

As the Times article notes, the neural pathways responsible for emotional regulation and academic mastery are closely related. Learning is a social process that relies on children’s ability to recognize what’s going on inside them and adjust their thoughts and feelings to academic goals.

There is no dichotomy between promoting children’s social development and ensuring access to academic content. The trick is to design instruction in a manner that encourages children’s exploration of their internal state as a way of learning to solve problems and work collaboratively with others.

Deep breathing and mindfulness exercises at the beginning of instruction increases children’s capacity to notice how they are feeling. If necessary, they can then rein in any feelings that threaten their ability to attend to the task at hand. Goal setting and opportunities for progress monitoring with a caring adult helps children develop the self-regulation needed for challenging academic endeavors.

Instructional strategies that encourage children to take the role of another or investigate different perceptions of the same event develop empathy and tolerance for others. Strategies can be as simple as board games or as complex as debating a topic from alternative points of view. What’s important is to encourage children to think outside the box.

As children become more empathic, their capacity to learn the social skills required for clear communication, conflict resolution, and friendship improve. They are able to collaborate with others to advance their own academic and social success.


Watch for Trauma-Sensitive Schools: Learning Communities Transforming Children’s Lives available November, 2015 at Teachers College Press and Amazon.

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