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.

Surprisingly Successful Approach for Students’ Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social Emotional Learning: Blank Slate Theory vs. Innate Human Potential
Teach Smarter, Not Harder, to Increase Students’ Social Emotional Learning

Socrates and John Locke are influential philosophers separated by 2,000 years. They are also separated by very different assessments of inborn human capabilities.

When educators want to succeed at students’ mastery of numbers and the alphabet, Locke’s “Blank Slate Theory” is completely relevant and valid. But Locke’s perspective that young children lack humane instincts, valid insights, reasoning abilities, and collaborative problem solving skills evaporates when held against experience-based research and current brain science.

It’s more than obvious to anyone who lives or works with very young children, that each is born with personal likes and dislikes. Research at major universities confirms the fact that children also come into the world with the very skills and capacities necessary for successfully navigating the social-emotional challenges presented by their own personal likes and dislikes.

The theory of mind that young children acquire in preschool years provides conceptual foundation for metacognitive skills required in school.
Research shows that shared-thinking experiences create better learners. Metacognitive skills are initially developed during preschool years.

Research also shows that by age 4 – under the right circumstances – children are (1) willing and able to communicate ideas and feelings, (2) listen to peers’ ideas and feelings. They are also more than willing and able (3) to adapt what they discover about peers’ ideas and feelings to improve their own responses / interactions, for everyone’s benefit, including their own, rather than just their own benefit – without repetitive interventions from adults. 

Perspective-Taking Skill Shapes Social Emotional Success

Perspective-taking in visual form.

We’ve all got our own perspective. Each has some degree of  validity, but perhaps not the whole picture. Perspective-taking, which includes but is not limited to empathy, is the #1 skill with the greatest potential to shape the most broadly beneficial outcomes in business, politics, and religions; in other words, perspective-taking is the most significant foundation of any successful interaction. Enabling and empowering 4 and 5 year olds to connect with, and exercise, their natural born perspective-taking skills results in measurable social emotional learning and development. Established tools like play and team sports create the interactions that help young children see the world from others’ perspective and provides spontaneous opportunities to exercise and apply their ‘hard-wired’ perspective-taking skills.

Facilitated, intentional shared-thinking opportunities provide educators with an easy-to-implement format for teaching smarter, not harder by expanding beyond the happenstance of play and sports to accelerate and coalesce  social emotional learning.

The Kids’ Own Wisdom Approach

So how do educators provide young students with the numerous advantages of perspective-taking without adding excess preparation and work to their days? 

In the next 7 blog posts about Social Emotional Learning we will describe:
  1. Why facilitation is educators’ easiest and most successful approach to developing students’ social emotional learning in and out of the classroom.
  2. Three benefits of developing learners’ self-awareness and self-trust.
  3. Brain science of self-regulation for learners’ accountability and agency.
  4. How to build belonging in the classroom, which includes both shy and challenging children.
  5. Why the communication that happens without words, is as powerful as words, and why young children need to share this understanding.
  6. How to create SEL opportunities that release neurotransmitters and hormones that affect mood, emotions, attention and focus.
  7. The school readiness benefits of consistently exercising young children’s critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving skills.

4-Year Olds Are Ready for SOCIAL – EMOTIONAL LEARNING

Social-Emotional Learning for 4 Year Olds Does Not Have to be Hard!
Shared-Thinking Circle Times for 4-year old’s Social-Emotional Learning
By the age of 4, kids are ready to share with peers, in circle time, how much they know and how self-sufficiently they can choose behaviors that work best for everyone!  They just need (and want) to be respectfully and appropriately challenged!
Kids also want and need to be acknowledged for what they understand, what they perceive as real, true and valid … and they need to express what they understand with their own words … with a group of peers … in neutral shared-thinking class time opportunities – facilitated by adults who, just during these times, do not have the intention to be teaching, but instead have the intention to give all of their attention.
Young Children Have a Natural Need for Quality Attention
How many times have you read or heard about children ‘just behaving this way or that for attention?’ As if their efforts to gain your attention were a negative. Turns out that the more we learn about all the elements of healthy early childhood development, the more we come to appreciate the value of honoring children’s basic instincts, such as their natural need for quality attention.
Validating Proof from History and Human Biology
After World War II, orphans living in a clean, hygienic and basically attentive facility did not thrive. In fact, almost half of infants died, despite apparently having all basic needs met. It turned out that the infants needed at least one meaningful relationship with a caring, and involved adult in order to survive, grow and thrive. Since then, we have learned that Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released in a manner directly proportional to the amount of caring attention children receive.
Quality of Teacher’s Attention Matters
It is now clearly understood that the quality of the attention children receive from their educators more often than not gives rise to repeated behaviors, as compared to ignored or unnoticed behaviors.  Sooooo … if we are giving our attention – yes, just simply our undivided attention – when kids are thinking together about positive and constructive solutions and outcomes to which they can all relate, surely it should come as no surprise that those solutions rapidly translate into behaviors by the children who – in constructive collaboration – gave voice to those solutions.
Constructive collaboration opportunities prepare children for future successes.
Young children welcome constructive collaboration opportunities.

Problem Solving is a Requirement for Children’s Real Learning!

Problem solving = real learning.
Problem solving. Discovery. Expressing ideas. Exploring. Constructing knowledge.

Young children, even very young children, need consistent opportunities to wrestle with age-appropriate challenges, conundrums, complications, obstacles, issues and “big fat botherations.”

Why?

BEWARE: Obvious answer ahead… because life is full of problems (always has been ~ always will be) and resisting them, complaining about them, or running away from them is just no way to live.

What kinds of problems do children need to solve?
Empathy cannot be forced or taught, but it can be evoked.
Does making kids share make them generous?

SHARING & INCLUDING, for starters:  Kids don’t always want to share. They don’t always want to include others, either… BUT kids do always want others to share with them, and they do always want to be included. How do we, their teachers, put those two seemingly irreconcilable opposites together?

ANSWER: We enable children to discover their own solutions by asking them the kinds of questions that get them thinking, together, in fresh ways (with fresh perspectives) about old familiar problems.

If we’re going to really succeed at supporting our students in resolving their own challenges, then we must view our role from a big-picture point of view, rather than attempting to implement immediate ‘fixes’ or behavior modifications. Kids need help with honestly exploring their own and others’ feelings about challenging situations that are oh-so-familiar.  Children need gentle *guidance (where to look, but not what to see) in order to understand that all kids in their group feel pretty much the same when it comes to sharing.   (*Guidance is best achieved with the right kinds of questions that invite kids, within peer group discussions, to safely express themselves and listen to each other, in a non-judgmental setting.)

The more kids learn and experience how much they genuinely share feelings and understanding, related to a variety of situations, the less alone/shy/isolated they’ll feel, and the stronger will be their sense of belonging to, and being part of, the group. Sharing is easier in that kind of environment. And if not sharing, then shared understanding about why “it’s just too hard to share that last cookie with someone else.” 

Sharing isn't always possible
Sharing isn’t always possible, but understanding each other is a big help.
Communication is key for real problem solving to occur.
Communication is key to problem solving for children.
Collaboration is an essential problem solving tool.

 

Activate and Exercise Students’ Thinking Skills: #Nuclear Option

No one lives in a vacuum. Shared-thinking opportunities reveal shared values and understanding.

As educators, it is our profound responsibility to activate and exercise students’ thinking skills every day. Shared-thinking opportunities, based on open-ended questions, can get kids engaged with current events, especially if we don’t start out with lectures.

Rules are for reasons.
Making Politics RELEVANT for the Purpose of Activating and Exercising Middle Schoolers’ Thinking Skills

The GOP’s recent use of the Nuclear Option, in order to blast through the Democrats’ attempt to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, offers plenty of potential to increase kids’ awareness and involvement with the world they’re growing into – if we open the subject by establishing relevance(Actually, when it comes to successfully educating today’s youth, nothing – NOTHING – is a more essential responsibility of teachers than establishing relevance.)

Suggestions for Open-Ended Questions to Activate and Exercise Thinking Skills for Relevant Peer Group Discussions

(Start broadly in order to create relevance through known associations.)

  1. Have you ever been playing a game with some kids, and out of no where one (or more of them) announced different rules? Who has a story about a time like that?
  2. How did you react? If other kids were involved, how did they react to the sudden rule changes?
  3. WHY do you think that person (or people) made that sudden rule change? HOW did they justify their new rule to you (and to the other players)?
  4. Did their justifications (reasons) make sense to you?  Why or why not?
  5. What happened next?
  6. Name some of your favorite sports and favorite teams. What is it that you like most about those sports / those teams / those players? Share some specifics with the rest of our group.
  7. Is there anything you don’t like about those sports / those teams / those players? Share some specifics with the rest of our group.
  8. What does the term “Nuclear Option” mean? (Encourage students to say the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear that term. Be open to all their contributions. Explain that you’re all exploring new ideas together – so “mistakes” demonstrate effort, and nothing negative.)
  9. Does anyone know what it means when it’s associated with interactions and decision-making in the U.S. Senate?  (Very brief explanation: The nuclear option is a parliamentary procedure that allows the U.S. Senate to override / change a rule … with a simple majority of 51 votes, instead of with a supermajority of 60 votes … effectively ending a 60-vote requirement for confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee or the passage of legislation.)
  10. How could this possibly matter to your life?RELEVANCE is the all-important factor for young learners.
  11. Do any of you know how the Senate responded to Obama’s candidate for Supreme Court Judge – just a few months before he left office? 
  12. Let’s think about some reasons that might have been behind the recent implementation of the Nuclear Option. 
  13. Again … how could this possibly matter to your life?
  14. The role of judges is to interpret laws objectively. Is anyone ever completely objective? Why do you think that? What examples can you give of people being completely objective? What about examples of people (coaches, referees, parents, teachers, police, friends, teammates, etc.) being partially objective?

Complete objectivity is a lofty goal, but rarely is it not mixed with subjectivity.

Educators’ Critical Responsibility: Activate and Exercise Students’ Thinking Skills – Their Futures Depend On It.

“In our evolving world, the ability to think is fast becoming more desirable than any fixed set of skills or knowledge.  We need problem solvers, decision makers and innovators.  We need to prepare our children for their future, not for our past.”             – Mike Fleetham


Activate and exercise students' thinking skills so they're ready to deal with the world's problems.