#SELChat: Questions to Answer Before We Move Forward
In early October, I attended the inaugural CASEL SEL Exchange in Chicago. The conference included 1500 professionals from research, education, non-profit, publishing, policy, and funding backgrounds, all committed to the well-being of children. Given the fact that each participant has a different “why” for doing this work, each person brings a unique lens to our common experience.
It was a positive experience, but after a few days of reflecting on the gathering, I found that I have more questions than answers; important questions we must all ask ourselves when determining a path forward. My hope is that these questions stimulate conversation that will help us determine thoughtful plans to support the children, families, and communities we serve.
1. How do we bridge the gap between research and practice? ― From 2003-2007, I participated in a research project with the U.S. Department of Education. In 2010, I attended Vanderbilt University’s Peabody School for my Master’s in Education. Vanderbilt is known as a research university, so the importance of research was impressed upon me. After graduate school, I had the honor of being on staff in two different departments with top researchers in their fields. My work affirmed my love for research as well as my strong belief that we must translate that research in order to make it accessible to the children, families, and communities. What are effective ways to do this? How do we break down the divide that too often exists between research into “best practices” and what happens in actual practice?
2. How do we foster collaboration? ― By nature of living in America and being human, we are competitive creatures. Although I acknowledge this reality, I wonder what we can do to come together. Researchers need program developers, and program developers need researchers and funders. Educators and non-profits need program developers and funders, and policymakers drive funding and implementation. We all need each other! We share a common goal: building healthy and happy kids! What would it look like if we dropped our own agendas and truly worked toward this common goal?
3. How do we rise above the noise? ― I had a conversation the other day with a district superintendent of a rural county in the South. When I asked him about the greatest challenge they were facing as a district, his answer surprised me, “A lack of parenting…parents are too busy or lack the skills needed to help their children. They are not present in their kids’ lives.” Here’s what I wonder about his response: What do we believe parents are ‘preoccupied’ with? Have we taken the time to connect with them, understand them, and empathize? What are they facing in their work lives, what challenges are present in their personal lives, and what can we do, as an education community, to help increase their opportunity to engage in their child’s schooling? While situations involving other distractions or lack of interest may sometimes be present, these are rarely the true factors underlying a lack of engagement. It is up to us as educators and schools to create an environment where everyone can be involved and we find a way to eliminate the factors that would interfere with this.
Similarly, I have heard educators discuss another kind of “noise,” this one involving their growing concern about the negative impact of social media on their students. This falls into a similar bucket of factors that prevent student and family engagement, but is a different situation indeed. Technology is a powerful factor in the 21st century and that is never going to change, so how do we harness that power for good, rather than trying to hide from it (not going to work!) or allowing it to have a negative effect? How do we leverage our children’s interest as well as the incredible power of social media in order to drive toward solutions for wellness?
As one who has been dedicated to social-emotional learning for over 20 years, I celebrate the growing awareness and dedication to the education of the whole child worldwide. However, I believe we are currently missing two distinct voices in the conversation:
• Parents ― Let us dare not supersede their role in their children’s lives but instead partner with them to help them succeed in their incredibly difficult and most important job.
• Media ― Whether we want to admit it or not, media shapes and informs the culture in which our children are growing. Let us elicit their help in creating a caring and nurturing environment for our children, families, and communities. May we co-labor together in order to make a positive difference across the globe.