For me, social and emotional learning has always been about love. A teacher’s love for students is similar to a parent’s love for children. Its symptoms are a cheerful disregard for sleep (in the case of teachers, we are working into the wee hours and waking early), indefatigable faith that our kids will do well, and the tendency to regard socially unacceptable behaviors are charming, or, at least, endearingly amusing. I love my kids and I want them to have the skills they need for emotionally fulfilling lives. There’s no test for that – well, no, wait, there’s a test. If my kids come back to me years after they’ve graduated to tell me that they are happy and well, then we passed the test.
I should say that there’s no quick, easy, cheap, accurate test for social and emotional learning. Of all the aptitudes that develop in unpredictable growth spurts, matters of the heart top the list. It’s almost impossible to predict when all those lessons that we created in the dark of night will culminate in a magic moment of understanding math, let alone empathy. Some of our best social and emotional lessons take decades to bear fruit.
This is part of why I find the sudden interest in testing for social and emotional skills, like joy and grit, so disturbing. I’m not alone — Angela Duckworth, the queen of grit, agrees that we don’t have the tools to measure noncognitives yet. While some folks might argue that we should start measuring now and develop the tools as we go, I say “no.” Haven’t we learned our lesson with the destructive power of over-testing cognitive skills? Why transfer the testing disaster from the cognitive domain to the affective and social domains? Don’t we like children?
Across our data-obsessed, cult-of-IQ nation, we’re finally starting to call for a reduction in testing. The wisdom of social and emotional learning includes the recognition that, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Or, as one of my homeroom kids says, “We just need a part of our day when we aren’t worried about being judged.” Homeroom has been the one place in school where kids can do and be and love without being judged, and we’ve seen tremendous gains resulting from that experience.
It’s hard for anyone to feel loved, or to learn to love, when they’re under the microscope — especially a high-stakes, statewide, standardized microscope. We can determine the success of our social and emotional learning programs by measuring homework completion and graduation rates. Teaching and learning are about love; social and emotional learning is especially about love. Let’s keep it about love. When we want to know if our children are growing up with the skills to have happy and fulfilling lives, let’s put our clipboards away, look them in the eyes, and ask them.