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New York Times Opinion Columnist, David Brooks, posed an essential question for schools in his January 17, 2019 column — “how would you design a school if you wanted to put relationship quality at the core?” Brooks suggests schools must create systems that allow for authentic relationship building. Sharing his own personal experience, while teaching at Yale, Brooks saw a change in the learning process in his classroom after sharing a scheduling conflict with students that afterward he believes made him more relatable and less aloof to his students. The idea that relationship building is core to the teaching and learning in classrooms is not a new idea, but it is one that is a part of a bigger movement associated with SEL (social-emotional learning) and resilience theory education.
Brooks points to a lack of organizational systems as the missing puzzle piece required to make relationship quality core to the work of schools. He believes the lack of explicit “metrics for measuring relationship quality as well as the lack of teams reviewing relationship quality” contribute to an inability to make relationship building explicit to the overall operation of the academic day. Sure, schools are places where conversations occur between teachers and students all day, every day. Brooks’ challenge to schools is to grow those routine conversations beyond the superficial to a level where teachers and students are engaging in a “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for one [another], establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” that enhance the overall learning process. This is the epitome of social-emotional learning. And, I believe, is ultimately what Brooks’ highlights as an area of growth for many schools across the country.
There is more to be done to effectively incorporate a systems approach to the work of social-emotional learning in education. Unlike other organizations/companies, schools often create systems and programs that fit the individual needs of the school primarily because schools are often different based on population (adults and students), demographics, mission, and resources. Despite these differences, teachers and administrators understand the direct correlation between academic success and a strong social-emotional connection between adults and students. Like Brooks, I believe the momentum to make social-emotional learning an integral part of the day-to-day operation of schools in the U.S. is higher than it has ever been. I also believe schools are full of talented educators ready to do the work to make this a reality! tlb