Nothing Replaces a Caring Adult in the Classroom

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By Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa

I love a good summer read, to be swept away by a classical romance or put on my toes by a modern psychological thriller. As an educator, professional learning writer and doctoral student, time to read what I want is mostly a summer luxury.

On Sunday, while enjoying the Florida sunshine along the Suwannee River and making my mind up about what to read next—Sparks or Saldana? Grisham or Goleman?— I got an official notification from my professional association that helped. The message was about the release of NNSTOY’s latest research report, “Student Social and Emotional Development and Accountability: Perspective of Teachers.” Maybe not a page-turner for everyone, but research for teachers by teachers is an important education issue.

The field and teacher research report focuses on “measures of social and emotional learning and their efficacy in educator evaluation.” It speaks of the importance of teaching social and emotional learning (SEL) in our classrooms and the impact this teaching has on student learning. So much has been said about the impact social and emotional competencies have on student success, in and out of the classroom. But this report goes further, examining case studies and data to help educators make sense of it all.

One finding that bolsters my confidence is that building positive relationships with students absolutely fosters their social emotional growth. Great teachers know the importance of creating and maintaining relationships with students and the positive affect these relationships have on school climate. This report serves as an affirmation of that work and reminds us that while test scores show us something, they can never replace the power of a caring adult. We want our students to have healthy relationships and to build their grit, their sense of belonging and their growth mindset. Adding SEL to our teaching is not just another educational trend; it’s a necessary part of excellent teaching today.

Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) is an ongoing personal journey into recognizing, understanding and managing one’s own emotions. The topic is a little scary, too. I wonder, are we teachers expert enough in SEL to teach it? How in touch are we with our own emotional skills? How can we develop a common understanding of the key components of SEL? How does SEL interact with school climate? This report begins to ask and answer these questions. And it brings to the forefront the importance of including teachers and teacher researchers in these discussions as we use SEL to improve learning in our schools.

Thinking about the importance of grit, growth mindset and sense of belonging, one key question continues to nag at me: How can SEL be taught, measured and evaluated by teachers and administrators who may not be aware of their own EQ? Taking a professional development course on one’s EQ will not make anyone an expert. We must give ourselves up to a continuous process—a wonderful excursion—to develop our own “emotional grit and tenacity,” to work with others, control emotions, troubleshoot, have empathy and compassion, and understand the emotions of others. Teachers themselves have this emotional work to do. We have to ask ourselves, are our relationships with other teachers and administrators healthy and contributing to a positive school climate? Does our self-reflection and sense of self improve teamwork while reducing stress and burnout in our school?

Recognizing our student’s need for strong social skills really is just the surface level of the EQ iceberg.

 

Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa is the 2014 Florida Teacher of the Year, a National Finalist and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. She is currently a doctoral student researching the importance of EQ in pre-service teacher CRT ESOL courses and an accidental farmer in Madison County, Florida. @2014FloridaToy • [email protected]

Photo credit: courtesy of Pixabay.





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