Superintendent News

In 2004, a simple little book was published by Robert Fulghum.  The book rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.  Since that time, over seven million copies have been sold worldwide.  The book reflects a credo developed by Mr. Fulghum based on the wisdom he gained through life’s journey.  He titled the book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  It acknowledges the positive role education plays in creating a compassionate, just and healthy society.  Essentially, it is a book written about social emotional learning.  And with that, I hope that this column may lead to a better understanding of Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  

SEL has generated a lot of “buzz” over the past couple of years.  It has been falsely branded as some “new initiative” or more negatively, “some clandestine program designed to indoctrinate children.”  Its purpose and  approach have been damaged by misinformation and misunderstanding.  It has created fear.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It can influence our thoughts and emotions.  It can spur us into action sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight response” It can also paralyze us - rendering us too afraid to make a decision because of the potential consequences. One only needs to spend a minute or two scrolling through social media to see that fear mongering has become a popular sideline avocation.

I came across this quote attributed to Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.  Now is the time to understand more… so that we may fear less.”  

Robert Fulghum describes this very same principle, “And remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.”

So let’s “look” at SEL.  We could call it character education, citizenship, or simply say it is part of growing up - course title, “Life 101.”  

The Minnesota Department of Education has developed a set of standards for SEL.  The standards fall within the following broader competencies: Relationship Skills, Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness  and Responsible Decision-Making.  All are designed to support students in becoming college, career and life ready.

From MDE:

Social emotional learning (SEL) is broadly understood as a process through which people build awareness and skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships and making responsible decisions that support their success in school and in life.

SEL is a universal approach for all students – a universal approach to prevent and reduce bullying and improve school climate. The goal of SEL is to address the social and emotional needs of all students to ensure their success in school, career and in life. Developing students’ SEL skills improves their capacity to learn and prepares them to meet career- and college-readiness standards. In order to meet rigorous standards, students need to be able to: regulate their emotions when they become frustrated; collaborate with their peers; communicate their ideas; and take the perspective of others.(3)

SEL has a positive impact on student achievement. According to a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those students who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement, compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs. Students who participated in SEL programs also demonstrated the following attributes: increased academic achievement; increased development of social and emotional skills; improved attitude toward self and others; improved positive social behaviors and decreased conduct problems and emotional distress.

The school’s responsibility in guiding children became apparent the day the first child stepped into the first one-room schoolhouse. The Fergus Falls Public School District serves over 3000 students annually.  By Minnesota standards, our school district is larger than the size of many rural towns.  On any given day, children likely spend more of their waking life at school than they do at home.  The proportion becomes even more pronounced as they get older with participation in numerous activities.  It would not be uncommon for a student to be out the door at 7:30 a.m. and return home late into the evening.  For us to function effectively, we have to establish a set of expectations that include how we treat one another and reinforce those every day.  

Our district is in the process of exploring how to best teach and reinforce basic life skills.  These are the skills needed to be successful in school, in the workforce and in life.  Our ultimate goal is increased academic achievement; improved attitudes toward self and others; continued development of strong, positive student-staff relationships; increased student engagement; and improving the overall learning environment for each student that walks through our doors. 

I’ve spent nearly thirty years in public education.  The profession is filled with people who truly care about kids.  Adults who have dedicated their lives to supporting children and helping them to be successful.  To provide them with the skills, confidence and drive to pursue their dreams.  I am extremely proud of the work that is being done in our district.  I am proud of the work we did yesterday, I am proud of what we did today and I will be proud of what we do tomorrow.  It is hard work, but good work.  It is rewarding work.  Your continued trust and support of this school district and its staff are appreciated

I invite you to take some time to read Robert Fulghum’s, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  He’s captured something about education and life that is worth remembering.