Consider the difference between the two statements: Educators should prioritize social and emotional learning. Learning is social and emotional.” Karen Pittman gets to the heart of the question in her article for Preparing Youth to Thrive. The second statement does not imply, as the first one does, that social emotional learning should be added to the curriculum. It implies that SEL rests at the foundation of all curriculum. For a growing number of schools, SEL has become a framework from which educators and parents partner to develop such skills in their students.
In special education, this frame takes on an even higher level of significance. It is not only a developmental skill to be enhanced, in many circumstances or for many diagnoses, it is an area of deficit. Therefore, it not only rests at the foundation of all curriculum in the school, it also needs to developed into its own curriculum category. At Kesher, the educational team sees SEL as just that: its own branch in curriculum, as well as one of the key threads that runs through all curriculum, content and skill areas.
In the lower school, Kesher uses tools, language and philosophy related to the Social Thinking framework created by Michelle Garcia Winner. This language, used to describe components of the social makeup of our interactions, in concrete and visual terms, is embedded throughout the day. Opportunities for practice and observation of these skills are offered in the environmental design of the class as well as the routine and daily interactions/routines. Data is collected on such interactions all throughout the day, to develop individualized developmentally appropriate goals, monitor student progress as well as drive instruction based on data driven decisions. These SEL components connect to the development of executive functioning skills and a positive reinforcement system that shape behaviors, using concrete tools. In Kesher, the connection between these three significant components are viewed as crucial puzzle pieces to the construction of academic skills and child development.
In the middle school, SEL curriculum is used to build community and address challenges that come with this transitional phase. It continues to thread instructional decisions the team of content area special educators make daily in their classrooms about environment, instructional tools, topics, methodology and assessment. It also very clearly and concretely connects to the two components: executive functioning skills and positive reinforcement of behaviors, continuing to aid in academic progress as well as key developmental milestones. Through the use of visual behavior chart consistently in all classes, students begin to step into a role of more active involvement. This also incorporates time for reflection as well as 1:1 and small group conferencing in order for students to practice this in scaffolded manner, ultimately creating/ modifying behavioral habits.
In the high school, SEL is no longer a curricular branch in the day, but very much a key component of all content, skill and instructional decisions. Content is used as a medium for enhancing academic, executive functioning and SEL skills. The developmental stage high school students phase begs the focus on SEL skills, and therefore is seen as a priority lens from which we analyze data and develop decisions. Positive behavior systems are still used to continue to support self awareness/monitoring and reflection skills. Concurrently, focus is placed on looking at the level of independence in each of these areas in preparation for post high school success.
More than ever before, the educational field recognizes the need for a focus on skills rather than content. In other words, using content as the vehicle for which to enhance skills, rather than the other way around. Just as significant is the realization that our youth is facing a drastically different world than we phased. This new world requires educators to facilitate and support the development of SEL, executive functioning and independence skills, more than ever before. This consideration becomes that much more significant when a child’s diagnosis sets him/her at an onset disadvantage in one of these areas of development. Therefore special education must incorporate these components strategically and purposefully. Kesher, as the definition of its name implies (connection), has made it a priority to build the connection between these areas of skill development, in the hopes of setting each of our students up for success.