Myth #3:  Teachers Need to Clearly Define Children’s Understanding About Right & Wrong

Right & Wrong needs to be reinforced from outside, and validated internally.

Actually, I don’t totally disagree with this myth. You weren’t expecting me to say that now, were you?  But, really, why do teachers teach?  Because teaching is what we do.  The thing is … for this myth, what we need to recognize, is that there are many different ways to teach, because … there are many different ways to learn …. and not all of them take the direct path from Point A to Point B…. in other words, from the teachers mouth to the students’ ears.

Different learning styles

I’m sure you’re aware of your students’ different learning styles : you have visual learners- who need pictures and images, auditory learners who do better when their learning is combined with sounds and music.  You have verbal learners who must speak out their own understanding in order to gain a solid grasp of your intended learning.  And then there are kinesthetic learners who have a real need to move, move, move.  Move their bodies, move their hands and move their feet to learn, integrate and remember knowledge.  Logical learners need to reason their way towards answers that make the most sense to themselves.  Social learners – are kids who prefer learning and processing information within the dynamics of group interactions …. and then there are solitary learners who need to be alone to process knowledge in order to remember and use it.      How is one teacher supposed to teach right and wrong to all those different learning styles? 

Obviously, there are many advantages – for you and your students – to teach to as many of those learning styles, as often as you possibly can, rather than relying on the direct path from Point A (YOU) to Point B (YOUR STUDENTS) . You know … the old-fashioned Top-Down approach, sometimes referred to as the Sage on the Stage, or the Teacher-Preacher approach … 

… because,  if what we’re teaching is not actually being learned and REMEMBERED and USED IN REAL LIFE, for everyone’s benefit,  then no matter how good, or how disciplined or how organized our teaching is … ESPECIALLY  when it comes to our students learning Right & Wrong, then am I the only one who thinks that maybe it’s time to consider new possibilities ?   

“It’s the learner with working memory, decoding, or attention challenges who retreats into silence or acts unruly out of fear they will be asked a question they are not yet ready to answer. It also defines the student who excels at classwork but is devastated socially and emotionally in school.”

One quick, and very practical suggestion for teaching that gets remembered and used   while  incorporating  nearly  all of the learning styles … and  developed a loooooong time ago:  is the Socratic method.   In a nutshell:   Socrates is famous for saying: “I cannot teach anyone anything … I can only make them think.”    Can you remember back when you were a kid, and you were always being told right from wrong, this from that, do this, don’t do that … !?     How much did all those Do’s + Don’ts ‘STICK’ in you?    How often did you need to come to your own conclusions so that you could feel like you were living by your own sense of Right & Wrong?     And once you had come to your own conclusions, was it more natural for you to live by your own values, your own conclusions?    Maybe not perfect, but easier and more natural, more automatic?

How many of those learning styles can you easily combine into a lesson about …. ummm … let’s say … pushing?  Well, it would be easy enough to provide a variety of picturesfor your visual learners – of people pushing in line, people pushing on the playground, and even – by contrast – pushing someone on a swing (good kind of pushing). While your students are looking at those pictures, ask all of them (for your social learners) some open-ended questions  about what they see in the pictures, about times when pushing might be okay, and other times when it’s not okay (for your LOGICAL LEARNERS   … and maybe ask the kids to compare pushing with interrupting (for your Logical as well as your VERBAL learners)  Let’s not leave out the kinesthetic learners …  What if there could be a demonstration of pushing by two of your students.  Very likely, you’d have plenty of volunteers for that, as well as a few laughs.  It might get a little rowdy, but PUSHING would never, ever be the same for those kids… because they’ve learned about the topic from so many different angles, through a variety of their learning styles    With the right kinds of questions … questions that would gain Socrates’ approval by, at the very least, being open-ended, we can get our students to think, to reason, to logically conclude  … in the direction of their own best answers that draw upon and activate their own conscience – their own personal awareness of Right & Wrong, and by doing that, with classmates (social learning style), they’re enabled to discover that every one  has a natural-born sense of right and wrong.  How do we know this?  Because all kids know how they want to be treated … so, with a little finesse, it’s entirely possible to give kids the clear understanding that no one likes to be pushed    By enabling our students, even our very young students, to share in those kinds of discoveries – which are NOT lectures … but personal discoveries for them … our teaching of Right & Wrong becomes not only easier, but more inclusive, and more successful..     It’s something worth thinking about, don’t you think?

MYTH # 2  about SEL:  Children pay too much attention to each other and not enough attention to teachers.

WELL, yes, that can be a problem, but with a gentle mindset adjustment the fact that kids pay so much attention to each other can turn into a powerful teaching aid that works to everyone’s benefit… yours and theirs.


Children’s early education is enriched by playing together with classmates. Each conversation, whether talking about the class pet or deciding which color block to put on top of the tower they’re building together, or who gets to be IT when they’re playing Hide N Seek helps children develop their thoughts, their language, their sense of themselves and how to best connect with others. This is a deeply important dimension of young kids’ development, and interacting with peers, with classmates, is really the only way those discoveries can be made. I mean, right?  HOW ELSE CAN IT HAPPEN?

Children, like all of us – as scientific research reveals – want and need to BELONG. As educators, we have a profound responsibility to nurture healthy belonging amongst our students. The kind of belonging that builds on the best, on the healthiest, on the most positive and most constructive of children’s shared values and perspectives.  This is not going to happen with lectures.            This is going to happen by creating consistent opportunities for kids to DISCOVER TOGETHER how much they have in common, in terms of their own honest feelings, understanding, values, and insights.

Sounds good, right?  Next question: How to make that happen?  Good question… in fact, questions are so often the answer, IF they’re the right kinds of questions, and IF they’re asked with the right mindset, within the right context.  We’ll get into all those IF’s in future podcasts, but for now, the ‘the right context’ is groups of kids pondering their answers, and responding to those right kinds of questions TOGETHER.  Gotta love those CIRCLE TIMES, eh?!!!

It’s easier than it sounds … and the healthy belonging that can be nurtured is everyone’s reward.   

On a more serious note, if healthy belonging is not nurtured in the earliest years of children’s development, is it such a mystery that feelings of isolation (not belonging), when ignored, devolve into the kind of mental torment that motivates some kids to use guns against their fellow students and against their teachers?   This is an issue we need to reverse-engineer, starting with our youngest students.

By ages 3 and 4 children are starting to identify and verbalize an ever-widening range of emotions…. By ages 5 and 6 they are, we know only too well, testing boundaries, yet they are still quite eager to please and to help out.  The commonality of the healthiest of their natural tendencies can be made more conscious amongst your group of students for everyone’s benefit, as I’ve mentioned before. 

For now, we just wanted to smash that myth that children pay too much attention to each other and not enough attention to teachers.   You CAN stop resisting that fact of life and make friends with it for the happiest and healthiest of Win-Win’s in your classroom. 

If you’re enjoying this blog, why not subscribe, then you’ll automatically receive the next Myth about Social Emotional Learning, which is:    Teachers need to be in control of children’s understanding about right and wrong.     Wouldn’t you love to see how that myth, too, can be blasted for everyone’s benefit?   Of course, and heck yes, right?  Who wouldn’t prefer to teach smarter, rather than harder?    Subscribing is super easy, so is sharing this blog with fellow teachers.  

SEL Myth #1: Kids need to be taught to empathize.

Empathy is innate.

(At least) 3 Myths about Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Part 1 ~ Children need to be taught  to empathize.  (Of course empathy is an essential human trait, but there are at least 2 reasons why it is just plain WRONG to think that children need to be taught to empathize:

Empathy is innate.
Empathy is hard-wired into us.


Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the automatic and natural born ability to sense other people’s emotions – how other people feel – and to actually, to some degree ‘mirror’ the same feeling as another person.  In other words, if I see that you’re sad, then I get a little bit of sad feeling inside of me.  If I see that you’re happy and excited, then a little bit of your happiness and excitement gets mirrored inside of me.  It just happens automatically… not because of any choices I’ve made.   I just feel a  little bit of what you feel.   I just mirror a  little bit of the emotion that you’re feeling.        

Empathy, also according to researchers, has another side to it: perspective taking… that natural-born ability to imagine other people’s experiences and probable reactions through the lens of their experiences, rather than our own . based on what they’re thinking and feeling (not necessarily what we’re thinking and feeling.)   

OF course, we’ve all heard about some Studies suggesting that people with autism spectrum disorders have a hard time empathizing… but there is also some research showing that the opportunity to develop children’s empathy does not need to be limited to typically developing children. If you’re interested in that, please let us know.

The main point we want to make right now:  The #1 Reason it is just plain wrong to think that children need to be taught empathy is because it’s built right into them.  It’s born right into all of us.   Empathy is hard-wired into the architecture of our brains.  For real.   

EMPATHY is hard-wired into our brains.
EMPATHY is hard-wired into our brains.

So, we don’t need to teach empathy … instead … we need to provide multiple and consistent opportunities to exercise it … to build up the neuronal connections that activate empathy. 

Reason #2 … that we do NOT need to teach empathy:

Well, since empathy is actually a natural-born response, hard-wired into us, like laughter, which is also a natural response, it cannot – in truth – be taught.     But, like laughter, it can be evoked.  It can be sparked.  It can be drawn out.   It can be enlivened.   

Empathy, like laughter, cannot be taught, but it can be enlivened, activated, evoked.
Empathy, like laughter, cannot be taught, but it can be enlivened, activated, evoked.

How?  Well, there are soooo many ways, actually …. certain movies can be incredibly effective at drawing out emotional responses.  An age-appropriate movie about animals is one way to begin with some kids.    Or perhaps just showing pictures of kids who are the same age as your students, in various situations, will provide enough opportunity to get kids observing, responding to, and identifying other people’s emotions.  There may be some students who are not fluent at identifying others’ emotions, but sitting in a group discussion with peers who ARE more fluent in relating to and identifying other people’s feelings , imagining other people’s experiences and probable reactions …  will bring the others along, slowly and steadily … (if we take the long view on developing this essential human trait) 

… because we’ve all noticed … by 4 years of age, kids are fascinated by other kids… sometimes even more than they’re interested in what we want them to learn …    which can work to everyone’s benefit.. which is the next MYTH we’re going to bust about the challenges of creating meaningful, and long-lasting social emotional learning in your classroom.    So, please do subscribe … because this is important information, designed to make your teaching easier and much more rewarding.

Empathy is a natural-born respose.
Empathy can (and ideally does) mirror happy, positive and constructive emotions, too.

Feeling More ‘Visible’ = Feeling More Valued

Consistent quality (not quantity) of attention matters.
Consistent quality (not quantity) of attention matters.
We all need to analyze the quality of our attention on children.

We consistently observe that children love attention, but have we ever analyzed what’s underneath that obvious fact?  Since the answer is in this brief article’s title, I’ll say no more on that. I will, though, emphasize the need to analyze the quality of our attention on children.

When our attention is complete and undivided, how do we imagine the impact will be on children’s feelings of being valued?  If the answer to that question doesn’t come straightaway, can you reference your own childhood, and the quality of attention you received, to gain insight? 

For uncountable reasons, attention on others cannot always be pure and undivided, but moments (yes, just moments) – every day – can and do have deeply nourishing impact … especially when those moments have nothing to do with situations that require corrections which, unfortunately, are the most common times our attention is undivided. Let’s see if we can stretch our pure and undivided attention ‘windows’ to include neutral, happy and constructive moments.

A few more important elements: words aren’t necessary. In fact, they’re sometimes a distraction, with their labeling and ‘boxing’ effects.  Just be consistent and uncomplicated, then notice the effects over time.