Values & Character Development in ECE (Episode 34 of the NOT YOUR NORMAL SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING Podcast)

Some teachers may, understandably, hold fears about which specific value and  character traits are appropriate for them to teach, but one answer, one powerful answer in my experience, is to intersperse age-appropriately challenging issues into Shared Thinking CircleTime discussions that mainly focus on familiar, day-to-day encounters and experiences… not, in any way, imposing values, but, instead, exploring values and perspectives in an environment of mutual respect – which takes the form of wide-ranging questions accompanied by genuinely interested and respectful listening.

When we enable, empower – actually, groups of young students to think out loud about their shared world, to examine and express their core personal values so that they gain collaborative practice with making more thoughtful, caring, and productive life choices … we, as teachers, are guaranteed more fulfillment as the kind of educators that make deeply important differences in our students’ lives that will reverberate long past their time in our classroom.

Encouraging students to develop their innate capacity to name the world for themselves, to identify the obstacles to their (and other’s) well being, can be beautiful and enriching work …. opening young minds to discovering their own pathways into a wider, shared world in which everyone matters … actually, truly matters.

When young students gain early and consistent experiences of speaking with the possibility of being heard …  and also listening with an unforced openness to learning from and growing with others, what kind of humanely enriching foundation can you imagine those kinds of collaborative group experiences would provide for all the students involved?  What kind of impact would those experiences make for the future of this very troubled, angry, dangerous and confused world?

HERES’ A REAL LIFE EXERCISE YOU COULD TRY IN YOUR CLASSROOM:  To keep things safe and neutral, you could show a picture of a cat’s tail being pulled… and then ask questions that evoke children’s natural inclination and ability to analyze, explain, interpret, empathize, predict, and problem solve.

Questions like:

  • Where do you think this cat and this child are? What do you see that makes you think that’s where they are?
  • What do you see happening in this picture?
    • What is the cat doing?
    • What is the kid doing?
  • If the cat is making some sounds what kinds of sounds do you think you’d be hearing?  Does anyone want to take a chance and try to imitate the sounds you think you’d be hearing from that cat? 
  • Raise your hand if you’d LIKE to be the cat in this picture.
  • Raise your hand if you would NOT like to be the cat in this picture.  Why is that your answer?
  • How do you think that cat’s tail feels?  How does that cat feel?
  • Does it look like that kid cares about how that cat feels?  Why is that your answer?
  • What are some things that might happen next if that kid doesn’t stop pulling on the tail?

NEXT… SHOW A CONTRASTING PICTURE~ without labeling it right or wrong. 

You could even ask your students if they’d like to see a picture with a different cat and a different kid…. just leave it at that…. then ask a new set of questions, like:

  • What do you see happening in this picture?
  • Is the cat trying to get away from that kid? Why do you think that is?
  • What kinds of sounds do you think this cat is making? Would anyone like to volunteer imitating the sounds this cat might be making?
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever played with a cat.  What ways have you played together?
  • Do dogs like to play the same kinds of games as cats? What kinds of games do dogs like to play? 
  • Why do you think dogs and cats like to play differently?  What about people… do some people like to play different ways?  Who has an example of different people liking to play different ways?  You can even tell a story about you and a friend of yours… or about someone in your family and you liking different ways to play… or liking different clothes … or different food … or different anything you want to tell us about.
  • What do you think the world would be like if everyone liked the same things?
  • How many of you have a pet at home?
  • How do you help to make your pet happy and comfortable in your home?
  • How does your pet make you happy?

Unfortunately, most teachers haven’t been trained to design instruction that helps students to explore and discover their own values, which, most often, are universal values… which, when that fact is discovered by students, early enough, results in a kind of belonging and community building that is truly and genuinely beneficial for all… both short and long term. 

By not creating those kinds of learning opportunities for our youngest students, our education system is falling woefully short on its potential to positively nurture future generations.

Source Article: Why Don’t Schools Teach Children Morality and Empathy? – The Atlantic


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.

Perspective Taking is a 21st Century Skill

Taking different perspectives keeps minds open.

It’s inevitable: people see things differently… even when they’re standing close and looking at the same situation or event. Different perspectives can cause a lot of problems, or they can improve situations. Totally depends on everyone’s perspective taking abilities.

Why are there individual perspectives?

Basically all our experiences – situations, events, what other people say and do – are up for interpretation. Interpretation is based on lots of known, and a variety of unknown, elements: past experiences, culture, faith, family values, personal preferences and previous associations to name a few. Differences don’t need to imply right or wrong … they’re just different. Period.  Even little kids “get that,” when they’re given the chance.

Provide students with multiple opportunities to exercise their own hard-wired curiosity about other peoples’ perspectives – with zero pressure for them to agree. Chances are pretty good that those kids will be inclined to open-mindedly consider others’ thoughts and feelings before arriving at their own final conclusions.

Open-minded people are psychologically and emotionally flexible enough to consider alternative solutions. When open-mindedness is combined with solid self-worth, constructive outcomes are likely.

What would the world be like without different perspectives?

For starters, life would be monumentally BORING. Creativity would be non-existent. But look at the bright side: there wouldn’t be any disagreements.  Zzzzzzzzzz!!!

Is there a way to have the best of both? Of course there is. Bring together groups of peers to objectively discuss situations and challenges familiar to everyone in the group. It really helps to show a picture of the scenario you choose to have the kids discuss. Be prepared with a list of 10-20 questions that respect kids’ intelligence in order to facilitate the most successful perspective-taking exercises.

Questions that communicate respect for kids’ intelligence and problem solving abilities are: √ Open-ended.  √ Unpredictable, but relevant.   Here’s a full example for trying out with your 5-7 year old students.  (Read through all of the questions ahead of time, so you can maintain the discussion’s momentum.)

Check out these additional resources for supporting your success at increasing the perspective taking skills of all grade levels.