Angela Benedetto, Ph.D.
Assuming you want to prioritize your child’s optimal development, here is our “depth” guide for addressing the role of your school and making sure it provides the emotional intelligence and social skills that optimize her or his potential to be happy and to soar in school, career and life – and to develop healthy school and lifelong relationships.
Starting Steps: Know the ground you are approaching
If your children never mention any learning that sounds as if it is along the lines of emotional management and awareness training, or skills in healthy relationships, conflict resolution, empathetic communication and making good decisions, then it’s likely such programs don’t exist in your school… and you would be wise to go advocate for them.
Also, if you and your child are unhappy with the overall experience and culture of the school, with your child not coming home positive and strong in herself or himself and eager to go back and learn more, then it’s likely your school lacks this desired environment.
If you choose to do some research before approaching the school, you can start from home by checking your school’s website or the school district’s website to see if they offer district-wide social-emotional learning, or list programs for “whole child development.” You may find that your school lists “mindfulness” or “morning greeting” or “anti-bullying” programs, which are deservedly becoming popular but are only one element of the full-on emotional intelligence learning your school should provide.
Many schools don’t actually have the programs they declare, so it is always necessary to talk to teachers and administrators.
As you prepare to approach your schools, note that Emotional Intelligence learning is most often known to educators as “social-emotional learning. However, it may be called by other terms in your hometown, including “character development,” which is similar to SEL, or “positive behavior instruction,” which is different though contains some similar elements.
The highest goal is to advocate for comprehensive social-emotional learning that’s fully implemented in curriculum and in the school culture, inside all classes and in activities outside the schoolroom.
If there are already some EQ programs at the school, get their names and familiarize yourself with them online so you can support them with your interactions with your child at home.
Advocating to Other Parents
There is strength in numbers, as you know. Check the district and school websites to learn what formal parent groups or parent-teacher associations (PTAs) exist, then attend meetings and advocate for such learning in the school curriculum and culture.
Make it your goal wherever you meet parents to recruit allies. Talk about emotional intelligence learning when you’re at your children’s events – a school basketball game, cheer-leading competition, robotics club, or whatever presents an opportunity.
Also, invite people to your home for a group meeting or create lunch or coffee meetings that allow for discussion and for creating allied actions. Start by watching some videos together.
To prepare yourself, read the related sections of this website and google “social and emotional learning” where you will find 13 million citations that have escaped the general public.
Once a few parents decide to advocate together, set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for school and local parents to communicate with each other and to share with folks they are seeking to bring into the cause. If such local groups already exist, join them and advocate for SEL there.
Advocating to Teachers
Meet with as many of your child’s teachers as you have time for, to persuade them to join your advocacy effort. Most teachers are aware of social-emotional learning but are untrained in teaching it. Their major resistance is likely to be that they are already overloaded with tasks and programs in a time of educational turmoil. Your goal is.
The core case to present to teachers is the potential for much better-behaved and faster-learning students, with discipline problems minimized and test scores climbing, along with a much healthier school culture that ultimately diminishes their workload.
Show evidence to them from teachers who work in SEL schools (gathered from this site or others) about how teachers’ attitudes and moods improved dramatically (as did their emotional intelligence-trained students) in SEL schools.
You might also recommend that they on their own – or collectively with other teachers – learn the SEL techniques and then ask the principal to set up special times to teach them. A number of other teachers elsewhere have done this rather than wait on administrators to act.
Advocating to Administrators and School Boards
Check you school district’s website for their board of education schedule, and attend a meeting, ideally with as many allies as possible. Most districts have a time slotted for community members to make comments or ask questions.
Also, ideally in groups, and alone if necessary, seek meetings with principals, individual board members and district officials and ask them to create a plan for rapid implementation of social-emotional development fully into the curriculum.
By focusing on an action step they can take rather than a critique that makes them wrong, you are more likely to encounter open-mindedness than defensive positions. Many school officials know about this learning in general terms but don’t know about the array of programs and practices available or their effectiveness – or how to implement them.
So be prepared with a list of videos that the “not knowers” can watch and the websites they can visit. (See our Guide for Administrators for thoughts to share with yours.)
Note that you will likely encounter resistance and “reasons” why EQ learning can’t be fully implemented in your school. They can range from “there are so many programs out there and we don’t have the staff to vet them.” to “we don’t have the money to implement them,” to “we’re too busy and beside it means retraining the teachers.” To “we can’t so disrupt the kids when they are already overloaded with studying and being tested so we can meet our federal and state goals.”
To which your simple answer is: “That is not acceptable. This learning saves money in the long run, particularly on remedial efforts, and it is your job as administrator (or board member) to plan creatively how this might happen. Once you do, we will join you in going to our legislators for the funding. Together, let’s plan how to make this happen. Please call a school-wide meeting with staff and parents as a first step in planning to implement them. (Or: Please call a special board meeting to hear from proponents of these programs.)”
Be persistent. Don’t take no for an answer. Set up tag teams with your parent allies. Take separate smaller meetings with administrators and district board members, and make an effort to enlist teachers in the cause.
Also, announce any coordinated efforts to local media outlets so they begin to inform the community about the efforts. This will also require the media to look deeper into the effectiveness of emotional intelligence learning in other communities.
Please share your experiences with us so we can post them on this website for others to learn from you – and you from them. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, be a squeaky wheel as time permits. The human tendency is to resist change. So keep knocking gently and leave reminder messages when you have a moment to spare. Stay upbeat and persistent.