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    Why Social Emotional Learning?

    In researching how to put our Vision, Mission and Beliefs into practice, it has become clear to us that what we envision for our school is best defined as Social Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL embodies the holistic approach to education that Pathfinder has chosen, emphasizing not just academic needs but also student's development as individuals, classmates, community members and citizens.

    SEL's effectiveness is dependent on the way it is implemented in schools. SEL will enrich all our students, benefit our special needs population and, most importantly, will provide the missing element we need to close the achievement gap. Pathfinder teachers have observed that many students with IEPs are more socially and emotionally fragile than other students due to low self-esteem related to academic achievement. By improving social-emotional competencies, these students in particular should be better able to access academics. Research has shown that many children with learning disabilities often have some emotional problem that is associated with their learning difficulty. Empirical data suggests the critical need to treat emotional aspects of learning disabilities. In addition, by implementing SEL we are preparing our students for college, career and life. Research demonstrated that school should offer safe and supportive environments to promote "soft" or "non-cognitive" skills that are critical for future success in higher education and business. Such social and emotional skills include a strong worth ethic, teamwork, self-efficacy and confidence. 

    Our approach will be based on the five emotional competencies essential to social and emotional learning as outlined by Daniel Goleman, plus the addition of a sixth competency that we will develop to address responsibility to the community and the world. The sixth competency furthers our vision of students who become advocated for their world. 

    • Self-awareness
    • Self-management
    • Social awareness
    • Relationship skills
    • Responsible decision making
    • Responsibility to the community and the world 

    In his research brief, "Instructional Practices that Support Social-Emotional Learning in Three Teacher Evaluation Frameworks" Nicholas Yoder defines each of these competencies and explains their connection to academic success. When school attends systematically to students' social and emotional skills, their academic achievement increases, problem behaviors decrease and the quality of the relationship surrounding each child improves. Students become productive, responsive and contributing members of society. 

    Self-awareness is the ability to recognize what one own's feelings, interests and strengths in addition to maintaining an accurate level of self efficacy. Students who are self aware are capable of describing and understanding their own emotions. In addition, they are capable of recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses. Students beliefs are about their own strengths and weaknesses influence the academic choices they make, how long they will persist on task and whether or not they will ask for help on academic tasks. 

    Self-management skills allow individuals to handle daily stresses and control their emotions under difficult situations. Students capacities to regulate their emotions impact students' memory and the cognitive resources they use on academic tasks. Self-management skills include the ability to monitor and reflect on personal and academic goal - settings. Academic self-regulation has important implications for student motivation in the classroom, as well as the learning strategies students use to master material.

    Social awareness allow individuals to take others perspectives into account and to empathize with others. Socially aware students are more likely to recognize the similarities and differences of others. Social awareness is particularly important for students as they participate in new instructional shifts. Students need to take the perspectives of their classmates in classroom discussions and attempt to empathize and relate to characters during analysis and text. 

    Relationship management allows students to develop and maintain healthy relationships with others, including the ability to resist negative social pressures, resolve interpersonal conflict, and seek help when needed. Students need to be able to work well with their classmates in order to participate in collaborative groups. 

    Responsible decision-making enables students to keep in mind multiple factors - such as ethics, standards, respect and safety concerns - when making their decision. This competency includes student's capacity to identify problems and develop appropriate solutions to those problems, whether they are social or academic problems (Payton et al., 2000).  

    Our sixth competency, Responsibility to the Community and the World, will be taught through service learning embedded in our learning expeditions. SEL researcher David Hawkins argues that SEL skills are most firmly established when they can be put into proactive in a variety of real-life settings and situations - something that service learning helps to accomplish. This will help our students become community-oriented and involved adults.

    We will design a K-8 scope and sequence and rubrics for the five essential competencies with the addition of the category: students will develop an awareness of and sense of responsibility to the community and the world. This work will define what students should know and be able to do at every grade level.