The November 2014 issue of Kappan features “Social-emotional skills can boost Common Core implementation,” in which Rutgers psychology professor Maurice Elias argues that social-emotional learning (SEL) skills and related learning are critical yet thus far ignored components of Common Core success. Writing that “the same skills being neglected in the implementation of the Common Core are those that are ultimately most beneficial for success outside of school,” Elias proposes that we must put greater priority on SEL skills and corresponding lesser priority on the massive effort of Common Core assessment which the majority of United States educators and students are currently facing.
Elias notes the ways that children need to develop key social-emotional competencies–defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making—to successfully master Common Core requirements. Elias focuses on the ways students are required to engage with text and develop vocabulary to support his argument that Common Core mastery depends on SEL competency.
Noting that a positive, thoughtful school culture greatly supports effective SEL skill development, Elias pauses toward the end of the article for a moment of “what if,” wondering whether Common Core implementation might have proceeded less dauntingly had schools “had the opportunity to transform their own culture in ways that systematically build SEL skills.” That, of course, has not happened consistently. Acknowledging that reality, Elias suggests that states, districts, and schools considering pausing the most time- and resource consuming assessment aspects of Common Core implementation in order to have the capacity to strengthen culture, character, and SEL skill development among educators and students. “We have had a misplaced priority on preparing children for a life of tests,” Elias notes. “This must be more than balanced by preparing them for the tests of life so they will be truly college-, career- and contribution-ready.”
“College-, career- and contribution-ready” is an apt phrase, and we appreciate Elias’ time- and resource-sensitive argument that we must view meaningful SEL skill development not an add-on but as a critical element of education that will make the most enduring impact on students’ lives and the world in which they will live.