What does social-emotional learning really mean, and why is it so important? In today’s episode, we explore the transformative power of social-emotional learning (SEL) with renowned experts Dr. Bridget Hamre and Erin Gruwell. Join us as we delve into the true meaning of SEL, its impact, and some critiques.
Erin shares her experiences, including her story portrayed in the Freedom Writers movie. We discuss the role of personal narratives in shaping curriculum and the importance of building intentional relationships with students. We also tackle fear, vulnerability, and healing in education. The episode concludes with a look at an innovative video-based coaching model, and how SEL can revolutionize teaching.
Listen now or read the transcript below!
Topics Discussed in This Episode
- [00:00:58] Introducing Bridget and Erin
- [00:02:15] What it was like for Erin to be portrayed by Hillary Swank in the movie about her story with Freedom Writers
- [00:06:20] The definition of social-emotional learning
- [00:10:19] How Erin thinks about social-emotional learning as separate from or integrated into the daily work of teaching
- [00:13:39] Making content relevant to students instead of just curriculum-driven
- [00:16:13] Three important fears in the classroom
- [00:22:00] The difficulty of supporting students when co-workers turn them away
- [00:26:16] What social-emotional learning looks like in the classroom
- [00:29:57] How social-emotional interactions play out
- [00:34:19] Why interventions don’t always have to be big and complicated
- [00:36:55] Having a language and lens for observations
- [00:39:31] Supporting social-emotional learning in post-COVID settings
- [00:43:30] Preparing students for success outside the classroom
Marnetta: Welcome back, listeners. Marnetta Larrimer here, your host for Impacting the Classroom, bringing you another podcast episode that talks about big topics in education. Let's get to it. What's impacting the classroom?
We're talking about social-emotional learning. It seems like a big buzzword in education right now. We're going to talk about what it really means, its impact, and some of the critiques with some of the leading experts on this subject.
We cannot talk about interactions without having our amazing guest, Dr. Bridget Hamre, co-author of the CLASS tool and CEO here at Teachstone. Bridget is the leading expert in student teacher relationships and classroom processes that promote positive academic and social development in young children. She's authored more than 65 peer reviewed manuscripts on these topics in the past 15 years. Welcome, Bridget.
Bridget: Marnetta, it is wonderful to be here. One of the best things I've done in my career is get to know you so it's a pleasure to be here.
Marnetta: I love you so much. I'm so glad we finally got you on here. We have to do more of this. In addition to having Dr. Bridget Hamre, we're having a double whammy here. We have Erin Gruwell. Educator, author, speaker, and activist who has dedicated her career to promoting SEL among students from marginalized backgrounds.
Listeners, you might know her work from the Freedom Writers, a group of 150 students from Long Beach, California, who overcame poverty, violence, racism, trauma, and low expectations through writing and sharing their stories. More recently, Erin designed Waldorf University's Master of Education in Social Emotional Learning. Welcome, Erin.
Erin: It's such an honor to be with both of you today.
Marnetta: I know we have a really big topic, but I cannot move forward until I say first of all, that movie was amazing. Your story with Freedom Writers was amazing. My question is completely off topic, listeners I apologize, Hilary Swank played you. How was that? Was she your ideal person to be you for that movie?
Erin: That's such a surreal topic for me. I'm an ordinary teacher and I like to say I had extraordinary students. When the opportunity presented itself for our story that had just become a book to be adapted into a film came up, I just assumed there didn't need a teacher. I just realized that my students are so dynamic and amazing that they would portray this story of their lives without the need for a teacher.
I'll never forget I was in this cafe with the eventual screenwriter who also directed the film. He asked this question: who do you want to play you? It was just such a weird question. I blurted out Hilary Swank. He said Hilary Swank, why? At the time she had just won an Academy Award for the film Boys Don't Cry. It was such an amazing film where she did it on scale and it was about a really tough subject about transgender youth.
I just loved that it was gritty and she has this incredible backstory as someone who grew up in poverty herself and at one point lived in a trailer. I thought if they're going to have to have someone play me, why not have someone that has a little bit of grit and a little bit of gumption?
I never thought blurting out Hilary Swank would actually come to fruition. I think she did a spectacular job. I'm so glad that the writer honored my request and I'm so glad that we were able to see that through and I love the rendition that she did.
It was hard for my brother. He used to have a crush on her. Then when she played his sister, he thought that's kind of creepy. She was so spot on. She had all of my mannerisms and they raided my closet and did everything to be my doppelganger, but she did a phenomenal job.
Marnetta: She's phenomenal in everything. Boys Don't Cry, if you haven't seen it, you must see. It's a true story about Brandon Teena. It's a wonderful story. She is an amazing pick. Listeners I would love for you to reach out and tell us your life story. Who would your person be? Who's that famous person?
Bridget: Marnetta, who's yours?
Marnetta: Man, I don't know. I want to say I'm such a unique individual. There is nobody out there who's going to do me justice, but I have to think about it. I'll have to follow up on that too.
Erin: Someone mentioned Angela Davis or even Angela Bassett. She was robbed of the Academy Award for Tina Turner so this could be her second biopic.
Marnetta: It could. Her body is not my body. She looks way too good to play me, physically. I can do this all day. Just email us, LinkedIn, whatever, and just tell us who would be your person that could play you in your life story. Bridget, do you know who yours is before I move on?
Bridget: No, but I am soliciting feedback from our listeners. You tell me who it should be. Although that would be a really boring movie.
Marnetta: For those of you who know Bridget, who would her person be? At email@example.com, send us your ideas of who would play Bridget, who would play Marnetta, and then who would be your person to tell your story.
Wonderful. She did a really great job. I think the nuances of the work that you did were captured in that film too. I didn't live in that, I could feel it. It felt very raw and real. When we're talking about social emotional learning, this is why you're here so let's jump in.
Before we get into the critiques and the challenges of social and emotional learning, let's talk about what SEL is. Erin, can you define for us what it is and what it isn't?
Erin: Initially, I didn't know there was a term for it. I began teaching after we had a horrible racial reckoning in Southern California after the Rodney King riots. What I intuitively understood was that I needed to bring a lot of empathy and compassion to my classroom for the lives that my students were living outside of room 203.
In my community, specifically, we had a lot of gang violence. We had 126 homicides in a single year. A lot of that was perpetuated on the youth. My students knew what it felt like to bury a friend, a father, a nephew, or a niece. Unbelievable economic insecurity and untested learning disabilities.
There were so many issues. I also had a lot of undocumented students and also a lot of refugee students. It was this beautiful tapestry of diversity. But within that diversity, they didn't like each other. There were stereotypes, stigmas, rivalries, and gangs demarcating their side of the street.
At the time I just thought I had to know who these students were. I have to understand their stories. I have to find culturally sensitive and relevant academia to present to them. I have to teach with them, not with them.
A lot of the things that I did initially, as I still do as an educator, I didn't know it had this amazing name, social emotional learning. Much of what we did was emotionally based. I think we cry a lot in my classroom. Those tears are cathartic and they often purge.
That was hard for my students initially, because when you're this big guy who puts on a front, builds a wall, or pushes people away, it's really difficult to have those feelings in front of people when you think it's going to make you feel less than. We had to be okay with not being okay. We had to have conversations about mental health that we didn't even know.
Once again, that was something that we couldn’t talk about because there were so many stigmas about mental health in their community, especially for my young men. I love that all the things that we did then, that were trial and error, are things that we are finally talking about in education and doing so courageously.
Bridget: One of the things Erin, as I was listening to you, we often talk about how you can't change what you can't see. Sometimes providing a label, providing a name to something, can be very helpful because I think it helps educators, maybe unlike you for whom it isn't intuitive to sort of see those elements of humanity. We're all people first before we are students, before we are teachers and that's what I heard from you. At its core is that connection to the fact that we are all humans and we can't pretend that that exists separately.
At the same time, I think there's this inherent tension because the second that we name social emotional learning as if it is something different than or separate from other kinds of learning, I think that creates a lot of sort of false dichotomies and I'd be curious about your thoughts about this. In my mind, social emotional learning is happening every single moment in every single classroom with every single student and our failure to acknowledge that and to think that it's something that happens during social emotional learning time, I think, is one of the challenges.
I'm interested a little bit in how you came to that intuitive understanding or just how you think about social emotional learning separate from or integrated into the daily work of teaching.
Erin: It was definitely integrated in. For me, when your syllabus comes back at you in the form of a paper airplane and a comment, why do we have to read books written by dead white guys in tights? That's very profound and provocative.
I went to a university where we were one of the most celebrated writing programs in the country. As I approached the literary canon as an undergrad or when I approached learning how to be a teacher in graduate school, sadly, what they didn't teach me was the relationship element, making things relevant.
What I had to do immediately was to learn to pivot. I have to be flexible. I have to throw out things that are in a vacuum or in a bubble that I created that I thought was going to work and realize it didn't work. Part of that was the why. Why are we doing this? I had to reframe everything about being an English teacher. Why do we read? Why do we write? Why do we communicate? And how will that serve you after this 55-minute period, after the bell, the test, the grade, the quarter, the semester? These are things you need for the rest of your life.
It was really for me almost like guerrilla tactics. How do I become a student? How do I learn and allow it to go from just being a teacher focused classroom to a student focused classroom where they became the teachers as well. I did not have the luxury of taking classes in college about social emotional learning. We've never discussed mental health when I was in the halls of academia. I think what I had to do was understand that there's a disconnect sometimes between the theory and the actual practice. I had to be very practical in that practice.
Marnetta: Wow. Thank you so much. So many things that you've said resonated with me. With them was the one thing that I wrote down, the with them instead of at them or to them. That's a big deal. That's where some of that disconnect happens. As an adult, you tell me to do something, I might be like hold on. There's a way you can do that if you want something from me.
How does that not translate to all the spaces in which we're interacting with other people? Others, like Bridget said, humans. I also love the fact that oftentimes because we have a lot more of it now in academia with teachers getting certified, but there's still so many missing pieces to help them to really understand how to support classrooms in this way.
It's still very rigid and teacher-focused and curriculum driven instead of thinking about what's happening in this classroom? Who are these students? How do I make this content relevant to them? So that they have these wonderful concrete experiences that they can hold on to and learn and grow from.
Erin: It's amazing that you said that because I think sadly, there's often these unfunded mandates in education. I'll never forget when one of my students who was really struggling, her name is Maria—in the feature film, they named her Ava—but Maria made a comment, teach to me and not to a task. I think that there was a moment in time, sadly, that we were so data driven and task driven that educators thought we have to teach the task. We weren't teaching the totality and the whole child.
Sadly, when I began this journey, there really was this unspoken narrative of a school to prison pipeline and that is disproportionately sometimes in our urban communities and that is something that I had made a decision very early on. I'm not sending a single kid away. I'm not sending a single kid to a principal to be suspended or expelled because I had every single student who had come to me because they had been sent away from a school or district and I thought that didn't solve the problem.
How do we in this classroom shut the door and learn from some of this trial and error? But we're not going to send kids away. We're not going to stigmatize those that have been sent away. Eventually I'm going to learn—and I did—why Maria had an ankle monitor, why Carlos had been kicked out of every school he ever attended, why [...] had brought a gun and threatened his previous English teacher.
Those things came out after they felt safe, but I felt that I had been set up in the toxicity of the teacher's lounge when they were throwing my kids under the bus. They realized as a new teacher without tenure, these are the kids you're getting and they knew my role sheet and I think they wanted me to catch them. Catch Carlos tagging, catch [...] in a fit of anger, catch Maria flipping me off, and all of those things, and then we could just send them away and it won't be so problematic.
There was something about there's got to be a reason that Maria's got that ankle monitor. There's got to be a reason that [...] brought that gun. There's got to be a reason that Carlos is writing his name on every surface with a Sharpie or a spray can. I got to figure out those reasons.
Bridget: One of the things, Erin, I love in listening to you is I see the ways in which fear at the individual and at the systems level gets in the way of what to your point, most teachers come into the classroom wanting to do. I think it's a fear of a few things.
One, it's fear of emotion. One of my favorite crazy stories from our use around CLASS, an observational tool that measures three broad domains, the first of those is emotional support, is early on in its adoption in one of the states they told us that we needed to change the name from emotional support to social support because, wait for this, the Department of Education was not allowed to use the word emotion in any of their materials. They said the Department of Social Services owned emotion at the state level.
But I think that is an example that then just pervades our fear of our thinking that we just don't want to bring emotions into the classroom, as if that is possible. I think there's fear of emotion.
I also see fear of student autonomy. My favorite story there is our faculty were helping develop the secondary version of CLASS and we have this dimension that is about support for student autonomy and to your point, Erin, going with the flow of their ideas, really letting them lead, truly sort of giving over.
The faculty at the secondary level thought we score CLASS one to seven. They're like isn’t four of the highest because of this idea that if we give students too much power, too much autonomy, we're going to lose control. There's that fear of autonomy that worries me about control that I think exists.
Then the 3rd fear that I hear you talking about that you clearly sort of pushed aside is that fear of truly being vulnerable and getting to know the other. I'm just so curious about what it was in your sort of, I don't know how old you were, young self that allowed you to sort of counteract some of those fears that I think so many of our teachers. It's less that they bring them with them, but they're sort of acculturated in institutes of higher ed and in the sort of teacher lounge to become fearful about those elements.
Erin: I do really wear it well and in fear. It was just strange because even to this day, I have so many fears and that identifying it has actually been really positive for me and being vulnerable in my fears because I think that the stakes are so high.
Even as a teacher now, I'm still afraid. I want the lesson plan to stick. I want there to be a connection. I want it to matter. I think oftentimes we don't as individuals feel comfortable exposing our emotions, exposing our vulnerabilities, talking about fear, and talking about the other.
I think the collective we, being my Freedom Writer students, when we rip the bandaid off and we realize that we're all afraid of something that we've all had some trauma and there's some kind of trigger attached to that. We all put up a wall and have that front and that facade. But when we are vulnerable and we put our dukes down and we don't swing first and swing fast, there can be that aha. I think there was always that kind of collective aha.
You could still have the fear, you could still have the trauma, but at least the healing begins and I think that was really important because it's all about healing. I think that a classroom for me is such a civil right. A classroom to me is a place where we can equalize unfair playing fields because they are unfair.
I think when we call attention to it, we give it voice, and we address it, and I think that in my class, when we started addressing inequality then we could also dream about a day where there could be equality and equity and being very cognizant that it doesn't exist yet. But how do we dare to dream? How do we make the world that we wish to see kind of thing?
I think it was very myopic when we started. It was just Room 203, but then I realized they never wanted to leave Room 203. They were getting there early. They were leaving late. Now virtually when we gather, we call it Zoom 203. 203 became a vibe. 203 became a place of the world that we wish to create.
Bridget: It's a place where they could be seen. No one wants anything more than to be in spaces where their real self is seen. I love that.
Marnetta: Absolutely. One of my follow up questions was how daunting it must have been to go to work every day and have to not only figure this out and really support these children, these students, at a level that was new to them and new to you? Because you're all doing this journey together. But to have co-workers who are just really looking for confirmation of them not needing to be there. Just the idea of turning away students, what does that tell them? Do you know what I mean? I just don't understand it. What do we gain if they're turned away?
Erin: For me, I had a 45-minute drive. I did not live at the time of the city that I taught. I have since moved to Long Beach, but I didn't live in the city. Those were long drives. I would have imposter syndrome then and now. I would cry the entire drive home. Sometimes you might nail it in period one and fail miserably in period two. The constant having to reconfigure, renegotiate, all of that.
Teaching is one of the toughest professions in the world. If you get it right one day, you might fail miserably the next day, and that kind of rollercoaster of emotions is very, very real and it's very, very real to this day. Circumstantially, it is really tough to be a teacher post pandemic. It was excruciating during it, I think we were all kind of shell shocked, and now we're realizing the ramifications of the pandemic and the havoc it reached and wrecked upon people's self esteem while they were in a box on a screen in their pajamas at home playing fortnight rather than doing their English lessons.
I think there's a lot of studies that are going to come post pandemic, but it is hard and it makes me sad that we are now in the throes of teacher shortages because teachers are like this is too hard, this is too much. I need the win along with the loss. I think that we're in a really interesting time in our country where we can have conversations that we did not have before. In having those conversations, I want our students to be seen, but I think it's really important for our teachers to be seen and celebrated.
I think sadly, that's not happening as much. And that's why I think we have a teacher shortage. Teachers aren't talking about their mental health. Teachers aren't talking about their social emotional needs. I think that this podcast is given a platform and a celebration to both. I thank you for that.
Bridget: I think that's so important, Erin. It's funny because at the top you said you didn't even think you were going to be in the movie and I was going to call you out on that a little bit because we know how important teachers are. To your point, the best teachers are able to create and cultivate a place where they can sort of then step back. You were incredibly powerful in creating those conditions for success, but it's so isolating and we hear that all the time.
I was a teacher briefly. I felt that there is this sort of closed door mentality and I think our attention towards the mental health needs of educators, but also the importance of community for educators and giving time and space for that because I think what we hear all the time is that educators have leadership who might be asking them to cultivate relationships, connect with students, inspire their learning, and yet there's none of that kind of support for them.
For them, it's just like doing this thing. I think paying attention to the culture that we're creating to support our educators and frankly compensation for the work without fixing those things where the shortage is just going to get worse. I agree, there's a reckoning probably that really is beginning to happen because these challenges are just so severe.
Erin: I think one of the biggest pinch me moments I had met the amazing administration at this incredible University, Waldorf University, pre-pandemic. We were trying to figure out ways to collaborate and work. Myopically, I'm a person who likes to touch and feel and be next to somebody. At the time I thought, how do we do that unless I get on a plane and I fly to your community?
When the pandemic hit, all bets were off and out the window because suddenly the Freedom Writers who do touch and feel and see, we too were relegated to this strange space of being in boxes on screens. We immediately went back to room 203 day one.
People are going to be hurting. They're going to be scared. What can we do to maybe help people on this journey? What do we do to help kids to get them off Fortnight and actually lean in? What do we do for teachers who need that connection to get them away from a Super Mario or any kind of virtual game?
This incredible university said what if we do what you do best in person and can we recreate it in a college simulated classroom? We're like let's try. The Freedom Writers went back to school and Freedom Writers became guinea pigs in a way that we said let's go back and let's look at those original stories, the stories that you wrote about in your journal, the story that became the basis of the Freedom Writers Diary, the stories that were spotlighted in the film.
Each of them have a theme and maybe the theme is resilience, or maybe it's perseverance, or maybe it's hope. But let's not have the magic wand yet. Hope could also start with deep depression and so Tony, let's have you be the face of hope, but let's talk about your deep depression and your mantra of being alive at midnight.
[...] maybe you put the R in resilience, but your resilience came from you being homeless and everything that went along with that story. [...] you may be the face of empathy, but let's talk about the unbelievable abuse you face at the hands of your family and how you push through.
What we started doing is using ourselves as storytellers and taking these social emotional themes and bringing them to life and trying to craft curriculum that made sense to not only a kid who would watch and read, but an adult who would then be that teacher and say now I understand why this kid is pushing me away and pushing this curriculum down.
It was a boohoo sob fest for us with light bulbs flashing and aha moments saying if we're getting it and we lived it, could somebody in a class pick this up and really get it? I just am so honored that the Freedom Writers were willing once again to be my students.
Some of them went back to school to finish their masters. Some of them were doing the last few elements of their bachelor's degree and we created this really cool program out of an urgency of now. People are hurting now. How does education become relevant even more so now?
That's where we got to learn all the fancy terms that we were using that we didn't even know as you asked earlier, Bridget, it wasn't separate. It was integrated. It was a part of. For us, it was our salvation.
Marnetta: Erin, thank you so much for that, for giving us what social emotional learning looks like in a classroom through the storytelling in that classroom experience. Bridget, what does that look like from an interaction perspective?
Bridget: I think there's sort of 2 things about that. First, is that sometimes we talk about social emotional learning as if they are skills that sit inside a singular person. To some extent, that's true. I have learned over time to be more emotionally regulated in myself when my nine year olds are fighting. Sometimes, as my 16 year old taught me, I also just put on my headphones and don't listen to them and that also works. I have developed those skills and I know what to do to support myself.
At the same time, all skills, actually even academic skills, are inherently relational, meaning I in one context may look way more competent in my emotional regulation skills than in other contexts depending on the setting I'm in and the people that I'm with. I think that inherently speaks to the fact that we can't develop social emotional skills in our children without acknowledging the role that the sort of moment to moment interactions play in them.
I think the other piece is this idea, and you can hear it in talking to Erin, that they're separate from academic learning. I think the other piece of interaction is too often we see teachers like I am teaching my literacy lesson now. I will get to the social emotion later. Where you see those sort of remarkable powerful moments is in moments of rigorous instruction where students are learning deep skills around writing, math, or science that are made relevant to them and where teachers see the social emotional learning.
They see a child who is frustrated and about to lose it and they make that move that helps engage and see them. They see a student who, frankly, needs to take a break and go out of the room. I think it is that idea of these skills just being relational and happening all the time. I think that's probably one of the biggest things that people like Erin just get intuitively but I think in our work, we've really tried to develop ways that help sort of give educators space and time to be able to see that part of themselves.
One of the most powerful sort of developmental opportunities we have for teachers is something we call my teaching partner, but it's just a video based coaching model. It is helping a teacher watch 30 seconds of a video of themselves, but helping them reframe and not necessarily think about how that lesson is going, but help them really see the opportunity for interacting in powerful ways.
One of my favorite stories, I was a coach in the very first round of MTP a long time ago and was working with this incredible teacher. She's so incredible that she's actually still in our video library because she's just so authentic and lovely. She had a student who had bitten her and she was quite frankly traumatized by that incident and was having a really hard time interacting with him in the classroom, truly seeing him.
It was through us having a close enough relationship that I could then have her sit with her, watch a video of herself, watch her being distant, and frankly kind of mean to this student, but at a distance she's not in the moment. It enabled us to have that conversation to help her see that and to help her really bring her best self in.
I think she started spending really intentional relational time with him on a daily basis and immediately saw it. When he saw that she was invested in him and she had somebody in me who could help hear her worry, her concern about that, she was able to bring her sort of authentic interactions in ways that kept him in the classroom. This was in preschool. He was about to be expelled and I think it is the power of those relationships and interactions that are just so critical to our students.
Marnetta: I was just going to say, Bridget, you also talked a little bit about banking time and the importance of recognizing lots of resources here at Teachstone to really support that work in the classroom.
Bridget: I want to hear Erin's question or observation, but I think sometimes we think interventions have to be big and complicated. What I love about the idea of banking time is we now just have great evidence that simply spending five minutes a day, a few times a week, actually not teaching just being with a student, has powerful impacts not only on their behavior, their attention, but actually on their stress. Their cortisol levels decrease.
I always love that story because you're like you as a teacher have the power to influence students. That's how they collect cortisol, but I think that really speaks to the incredible impact that intentional interactions can have. Erin, I want to hear what you were thinking.
Erin: I was just excited. I'm a student today. I always feel with my imposter syndrome that if I have the opportunity to talk about my story, it's really anecdotal. It's just in my little bubble, but I love being around experts like yourselves because you know what you're doing. I'm still figuring it out as I go along.
I love when I hear words like intentionality, relationships, because that's what I was doing and not knowing if I was doing it right. I'm sitting here and I'm learning. I think for teachers, we need that validation. Sometimes you're boiling the pasta and you throw the spaghetti noodles and hope it sticks and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't.
I think words like intentionality and relationships were part of my pasta plan. It has to matter. It being the education, but also this relationship and why you're here. It's so vital and important. I'm just an English teacher, but I know that a lot of teachers feel the same way about math or whatever our subject matter, maybe that's our it and that's our why. I think it's really important as you said to allow the kid while they're in your class, whatever else is going on in their head and outside, to know this is a safe space and it's not punitive and you're not going to be punished for all that other stuff.
Sometimes school can be very punitive and kids can feel very punished. I love that you've created opportunities for teachers to learn and adapt in real time.
Bridget: One of the things that is so important is I can watch any teacher for five minutes and find phenomenal examples of things they're doing well. Even teachers who are really struggling. I think to your point, partly it's having a language and a lens for seeing some of the things that we're doing so that we can be most intentional about them because my observation is teachers actually tend to beat themselves up a lot and be the sort of harshest critics.
A lot of our focus is just helping teachers see the things they're already doing really well so that they can build on those and do them with more intention. Now I wish we had lots of videos back in the day. Certainly I had that thought watching the movies. I'm often watching movies thinking about how we should be stealing snippets of great teaching from those moments.
Erin: It's so funny. I love that we started talking about, yeah, there was a feature film, which is weird and wonderful. But we had all these great films that we had taken with a camcorder in my classroom that we eventually made into a documentary. It's hysterical because it was back in the days with shoulder pads and my students ruthlessly mocked me.
It was fun to go back and see that treasure trove with that camcorder of the lessons and things that were good and things that weren't so great and how do we learn from them? I think a lot of teachers, as you said, we do beat ourselves up. Having a camcorder in my class was terrifying because I wasn't holding it, a student was, but it was also what a great memento of a moment in time.
Marnetta: Earlier you were talking about some of the challenges post COVID and some of the causes of the teacher shortage. Bridget alluded to some things that we needed to do like better pay, of course, and just supporting the teachers. We're thinking about those challenges in post COVID. I heard from many school leaders that they really want to support social emotional learning and they just don't know how to do that. It's just challenging for many reasons.
Training teachers on SEL supported strategies before they quit that leads to those shortages and in addition to that, the children, as you stated Erin, are displaying more challenging behaviors. What can school leaders do to support social emotional skills in children despite all those challenges that we talked about earlier?
Erin: I think you have to lead with love, teach with your heart, and to be present. I think we have to model. I think that for me, I didn't have that modeling at my school site. I was terrified of that toxicity in the teacher's lounge. My principal was short sighted.
Then I finally met my superintendent, Dr. Carl Cohen, who said yes. I had learned to master the art of asking for forgiveness not permission, because every time I asked for permission, they said no. Then I had the superintendent who never forgot his why and he started saying yes.
It was almost like be careful what you ask for because then we'd ask him to come with us and he'd show up and we're like oh my god, now he's in the room. That imposter complex like if we do something wrong, he's going to see it. Yeah, he did. Of course, he did because we're going to make mistakes, but I love that he led and he was present. In those magical moments, it was capturing lightning in a bottle and he was there.
I think for people in positions of power and authority, you have to lead that. You have to show what it means not only to see a kid, but to see a teacher, what it feels like to hear a kid and hear a teacher to say that this curriculum matters and we all matter. I think that starts hopefully at the top. I think that we as teachers have to be vulnerable enough, acknowledging our fears, and to ask for it.
I need help. I am afraid. I don't know what I'm doing. I can't do this alone. I don't have the resources for this book that I think is what my kids need to read. I think when you start asking, it's very scary because there is the fear of rejection, but when there is a yes, it is Eureka. It is Nirvana. It is a game changer.
I think that whoever is listening to this podcast, whether they're a student, teacher, or someone in a position of power, hopefully the takeaway is that we all can lead with love. We all have to have courageous conversations when it's scary.
Bridget: I love all of that. I think I'm going to go out on a limb and my friends who have social emotional curricula will not appreciate me saying this, but I think the answer is not social emotional learning curricula, which doesn't mean those aren't effective. That doesn't mean there isn't a role for those, but it isn't the place where we need to start.
This conversation, listening to Erin, I think we have to start with the people and we have to start both with the educators and also with the students and making sure that they feel that they're in places and spaces where it's okay to talk about love and to lead with love.
Erin, you've done great work here. I think if I had a second sort of magic wand, I do think the curriculum's super important. It's what drives the day. But I think what's really exciting is things like the Freedom Writers curricula where the social emotional learning is embedded into the academic content.
I think when you have those two pieces together, teachers who are really well trained, who are vulnerable, who are open, and then curriculum that are scaffolding them around not just the academic content, but how to make things relevant, how to connect to the emotional experience of students. I think those are the things that ultimately probably along with school culture are going to help to change the world one classroom at a time, Erin. That's all it's about.
Erin: Even one kid at a time.
Marnetta: We're out of time, Erin. I want to make sure that we get you. It went by that fast. Those are great ending words and obviously there's so much to talk about on this subject. We heard so much conversation between the two of you around social emotional learning and how educators and leaders can support children and families. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us.
I'm hoping that by listening to you that they do lead with love, but also listen to Bridget and kind of tie it together to be mindful of the culture that they're creating when we're thinking about the students and how to really prepare them for success outside of the time that we have with them.
Erin: The student in me hopes that this has a part two. I feel like I have two wonderful new girlfriends and I want the conversation to continue. Maybe at some point in the future, I'd love to do part two.
Marnetta: I had questions I did not ask so I would love to.
Erin: [...]. I want to come back and do part two.
Bridget: Yeah, let's do it.
Marnetta: You heard it, listeners. You heard it here first. You can find today's episode and transcript on our website, teachstone.com/podcast. As always behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together.