Check out this exceptional example of the use of social and emotional learning in high school from Edutopia (the George Lucas Educational Foundation). Though often early childhood and elementary school ages and stages are times we tend to focus on social and emotional learning, middle school, high school, and college-age students also require skill building in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. In fact, high school is often a time when students experience greater separation – from their family as they take more cues from their peers, from their school community as they go from teacher to teacher without a consistent “homeroom” during the day, and as they further define their sense of identity, how they are like others and also, how they are different. Because of these separations, there is a significant need to build community. These classes work on building connectedness and trust between and among classmates and with the teacher. The focus on social and emotional learning offers students a regular opportunity to share deeper parts of their identity creating a caring, safe environment that strengthens relationships and offers healthy risk-taking opportunities. Students learn how to manage their emotions and deal with their anxiety by practicing mindfulness, coping tools they can use throughout their lives. And if you watch until the end, you’ll see the success rates they’ve had with this focus including a 95% graduation rate, 99% four-year college acceptance, and high stakes testing scores that outperformed both their own district and the state in math and English language arts (2015).
If you are a parent of a high school student, there are numerous lessons to be learned by this shining high school model. Here are a few ideas that you could incorporate into your family life to support your high school student:
- Family mindfulness – Many are intimidated by the use of mindfulness strategies feeling like a lot of knowledge and training is required. In truth, it can be as simple as noticing your breath, taking deep breaths, noticing the thoughts running through your head, noticing how your body feels in each place and space and becoming aware of the present moment. In our scattered, busy lives, this is a value for anyone. We all need ways to manage our anxiety. Why not incorporate a mindfulness practice into one of your already-established family routines? Do you eat breakfast or dinner together? Take five breaths as a family before eating. Do you say goodnight before going to bed? Before you do, notice the silence. Become aware of how your body is feeling. Take some deep breaths together.
- Family connection – This school created a safe space for talking about riskier topics that delved into students’ sense of self and meaning. Isn’t this also critical in order to deepen intimacy in any family? Consider your daily conversations. What issues do you discuss? Do they tend to focus on logistics (team practice Wednesday, a friend over on Friday, for example)? How could you create a safe space in your day or your week to discuss truly important issues related to your teens’ developing sense of self? This high school has a regular routine with structured ways to open up the dialogue. That consistency and set of expectations created safety for the students to risk talking about highly personal issues. If you create this kind of space, kids will be more willing to share when times are tough for them. Is there a weekly chance you could create – that family members could count on – for you to deeply connect on what’s going on inside your mind and your heart? What is concerning? What is most important to you?
- Appreciation, Apology or Aha – This practice of offering an appreciation, an apology or an “aha” is a helpful structure to offer family members a targeted reflection on their learning from their day or gratitude for their lives. This could be a dinner conversation or check-in before heading to bed for the night. But it opens a door to connection. If there have been conflicts during the day, this is a way to begin to repair harm before the close of the day.
Thanks, #Edutopia for this outstanding example of how a focus on social and emotional learning in high school can make a significant different in students’ lives.