Emotions Matter at Brewster

Emotions matter. Positive and negative. They matter for everyone and this includes teenagers. In a time when adolescents overwhelming use the descriptors “tired” and “stressed” and “bored” to describe how they feel in school, educators – those at the head of the classroom, those who oversee those at the head of the classroom, and those who teach educators  – should take note.

The educators who recently attended a two-day conference at Brewster Academy came because they know emotions matter.

Emotions drive learning, decision making, creativity, relationships, and health. This is the first sentence of the mission statement of The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, directed by Dr. Marc Brackett, one of the leading experts on social-emotional learning and the conference’s keynote speaker. The mission continues, “the center uses the power of emotions to create a healthier, and more equitable, productive, and compassionate society … We do this work because the well-being and sustainability of our society depends on each of us using our emotions intelligently.”

And this means our students.

The word is out. It is no longer good enough for teachers only to know how to teach subject material. Teachers don’t need a degree in psychology, however, to help their students understand and manage their emotions. What they do need to make their lesson plans and delivery more effective is an understanding of emotions and how to build the social-emotional capacity in their students.

And that’s why the nearly 60 teachers, school administrators and counselors, and curriculum writers from across the country had come together on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Represented were schools such as Our Sisters’ School in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which has intentionality across its curriculum to help its middle schoolers develop confidence in managing their social and emotional challenges for successful outcomes. In a session on Reflecting Your School’s Values, presented by Sarah Herman, head of school at Our Sisters’, and Robert Gallo, director of Community Core, participants reflected on their school’s core values and how – and if – those values are built into daily structure. Some schools dedicate classes to help develop their students’ social-emotional capacity while others use morning meetings, assemblies, and talks to infuse the core tenets of a social-emotional curriculum into the culture.

Before such a curriculum can be embedded within a school culture, however, schools need to invest in their teachers. You can’t teach math if you can’t do math. You can’t teach reading if you don’t know how to read. You can’t teach emotional literacy if you don’t know what those skills look like. Herman noted that “through two master’s programs I never had a course on how to build a community.”

Like Brewster, some of the schools represented at the conference ensure that their teachers have the skills to deliver an SEL curriculum to students. According to presenter Andrea Archer, former head of three primary schools who now runs an educational consulting firm, SEL training in university teaching programs is not as strong as it could be. “The new cohort of teachers coming into schools have less pedagogical training. There are a lot of teachers who come in ill-equipped to teach. Knowing how to learn something is not knowing how to teach something.”

Schools must ensure that all faculty – newcomers and veteran teachers alike – receive training that is rooted in evidenced-based practice as well as the tools to implement and sustain the positive outcomes and attendant enhancements to the school culture.

We owe this training to our teachers because we know emotions matter.

Part of understanding emotions is understanding neuroscience and brain development. Neuroscience in a Nutshell provided a primer into the social, emotional, and cognitive regions of the brain and, more specifically, the developmental time frame of these structures. Paula Prentis, a social worker and co-founder and co-author of Your Self Series, a comprehensive social, emotional, and character development curriculum, led this session. She guided participants through the interconnection of structures within the limbic system. The takeaway was that no one part of the limbic system is responsible for one specific emotional state. Decision making happens throughout the brain and thus we need to spread learning throughout the brain for optimal results.

One of the last sessions I attended added further relevance to the need for a strong social-emotional aptitude. More and more CEOs and business leaders champion the cause and benefits of possessing a high EQ, an essential trait for success in the workplace and one that appears lacking in today’s workforce entrants. Presenter Michelle Rafalowski-Houseman, a science and SEL teacher at Brewster, offered insight into millennials – how they feel, what they want, what motivates them (or doesn’t), and the societal factors that most influence them.

There was a lot to take in – and to take away – at the LLI New England Emotional Learning Conference and the above is only a glance at the richness dispensed. One “complaint” was that there were too many compelling concurrent sessions, leaving participants unable to attend other sessions of interest.

We invite this year’s inaugural attendees to come back next year – and to invite colleagues and others invested in learning about and developing the social and emotional learning capacity of students – because emotions matter.

LLI New England and Brewster Academy sponsored the Emotional Learning 2017 Conference.

 

 

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