Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Circle Solutions, a Philosophy and Pedagogy for Learning Positive Relationships: What Promotes and Inhibits Sustainable Outcomes?

Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Circle Solutions, a Philosophy and Pedagogy for Learning Positive Relationships: What Promotes and Inhibits Sustainable Outcomes?

Article excerpt

The promise of social and emotional learning

Where the overriding focus is on academic curricula, schools may fall short in preparing children and young people to meet the challenges of increasingly complex social environments (eg Cohen, 2006; Elias, 1997; Grumet, 2006; McCarthy and Vickers, 2008). In 1996, UNESCO published their seminal report on Education for the 21st Century, the Treasure Within. Delors and his colleagues identified four pillars of education: "learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together" (Delors, 1996). These last two pillars are the foundation for social and emotional learning - enabling young students to develop into citizens capable of negotiating the complex terrain of life in the 21st century, make good decisions, be resilient, establish and maintain fulfilling relationships and be responsible members of their communities.

There is evidence that, with provisos, social and emotional learning can raise academic attainment, improve mental health, and reduce behavioural concerns in children and young people (Salovey and Sluyter, 2002). Actively promoting the knowledge and skills underpinning positive relationships can reduce bullying (Roland and Galloway, 2002; Cross et al, 2003), improve academic outcomes (Zins et al, 2004), mental health and wellbeing (Wells et al, 2003), pro-social behaviour (Roffey, 2011), resilience and coping skills (Noble et al, 2008). A meta-analysis from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) of 213 school-based, universal, SEL programs involving 270,034 students from kindergarten to high school age found significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance compared to controls (Durlak et al, 2011). They also found, however, that implementation factors impacted on outcomes. This mirrors earlier findings from Durlak and Dupre (2008). This research provides a strong rationale for pre-service teachers to understand what SEL means for their future practice and ways to implement this in their classroom.

A critique of social and emotional learning

Despite the increasing adoption of social and emotional learning programs in the UK, US and Australia, there has been a concern expressed about the dangers of 'therapeutic education'. The most notable detractors in this debate are Eccleston (2007) and Craig (2007). Eccleston's main concern can be summarised as promoting a 'victim' mentality, where individual students are seen as vulnerable with a 'diminished self'. She says that to address this deficit, they are given compulsory 'therapeutic' opportunities, often by unskilled teachers, who may make things worse rather than better. She questions the value of what she sees as wholesale therapeutic intervention. Although these criticisms have some validity, Eccleston goes further in dismissing the critical importance of emotions and relationships within the learning process, thereby putting aside a raft of evidence to the contrary (eg Horsch et al, 2002; Hattie, 2009).

Craig (2007) questions the evidence base of the SEAL program (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) and cites Twenge (2006) who shows that since the 1960s young people in America have increased their level of self-esteem, but that narcissism, blame and feelings of powerlessness have also risen. Craig expresses concern that the social and emotional aspects of life for many students are highly complex and that it is not appropriate for their coping skills to be evaluated in the same way as other aspects of the curriculum. Craig fears this may be used to control students rather than enable them to develop insight and make informed choices. There would appear to be an underlying unease with both commentators that an individual focus on social and emotional learning may undermine the importance of community. The author concurs with these criticisms but consider that it does not make sense to jettison this valid and valuable area of teaching and learning. …

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