I just read a post from Education Week about 8 states writing standards for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) with another 11 being able to use the materials that are produced.  I have mixed emotions about this.  On one hand, institutions are starting to notice the profound impact that SEL has on students and wants to help.  On the other hand, I worry that state intrusion into a nascent area will stifle individual creativity.

My school, Open World Learning Community (OWL, former Saint Paul Open School) has had a class called Advisory for 45 years.  In Advisory students would meet in cross age groups to address the wide variety of experiences that they would encounter on a daily basis.  From college application, résumé writing, academic advising, current events, physical activity, etc. an advisor would facilitate growth with their advisees.  This was the heart of SEL education at OWL for more than 30 years when I came on board.

I had a tough time doing Advisory.  I didn’t like it at all and it was easily the most anxiety inducing part of my day.  I didn’t feel prepared for being an advisor and there was no clear way set forth in school policy to teach it.  After stumbling on a formula that worked, my principal asked if I would be interested in going to a Developmental Designs workshop and I agreed.  While there were parts of the program that I didn’t agree with, there were parts that I could implement right away and see tremendous impact in my practice.

The next step was writing curriculum that my colleagues could use to help model what exemplary Advisory Lessons would be look like.  That was the true beginning of HISEL, when Megan and I wrote scores of lessons that other teachers could use to start to transform their practice as well [as an aside, many students can tell when teachers are being phony, so model lessons in the hands of a someone who will just go through the motions isn’t going to go well, but more on this in a future post].

The next step in the evolution of HISEL was EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) and the concept of Crew (think advisory but using a boating metaphor).  The EL Educational Network has a series of Core Practice Benchmarks, one of which (the 27th) describes the lofty goals of how EL views Crew.  Megan and I have presented at EL National Conferences about Crew at OWL (Megan twice, myself once) and have received overwhelmingly positive feedback about our presentations and our model [we are available for hire if you want to bring us to your school].

I tell this story to suggest the power of this growing movement only to reinforce that a grassroots campaign has so far worked to increase the availability of SEL to increasing numbers of students.  However, history is rich with educational innovations that haven’t been implemented for students who may benefit most from those innovations.  So I see the role of the State in creating (and enforcing?) standards that could be implemented wide-scale.  This is the crux of the free-market vs. regulation debate in an arena that actually affects me.  What are your thoughts? [Please keep the comments civil, this isn’t a space for trolls!]

State Standards for Social Emotional Learning?

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