I was recently at a conference about the social and emotional needs of children today. While much of what I heard reinforced what we were already seeing as a campus, it was fascinating - the idea many children today are unaware of how to communicate effectively, show and understand empathy, understand their feelings regarding shame, or even the ability to read the emotions of others.
Over the day the needs/challenges of children today continued to grow….social/emotional needs, emotional disturbances, medical needs, hunger, clothing, communication needs, lack of parental support, counseling needs, and on and on the list grew…
Two questions continued to enter my mind throughout the day:
1. Where do academics fall?
2. Whose responsibility is it to tackle all of these concerns?
When I was growing up schools had one job: Educate through the teaching of content.
I wasn’t able to use Google as it wasn’t around… Desks were in rows, car phones were the cellular technology of the day, and memorization of information was the key ingredient to showing knowledge and understanding. Encyclopedias, spelling lists, worksheets, and phonics ruled the classroom. If someone was out of line...well, that was a phone call home or a trip to the principal. Why? Because it was an expectation that my parents were to parent...and the school was to share content knowledge. Two very different rolls, parent and school…
Each year it seems the social and emotional needs of our students continue to grow. This, of course, causes educators everywhere to reevaluate our practices, and look at what we can do moving forward to continue to ensure our students are successful. Yet, as I continue to learn about the needs of our students, the more I am finding that content becomes step two in the learning process.
While I know some may not agree with me, if we are honest with ourselves I truly believe we can’t help but find that the answer to my first question...Where do academics fall? Is found second to whether or not our students are mentally ready to learn. Brain research, social emotional learning, restorative practices...all game changers in the world of education. Why? It’s really two fold...First, our students learn best when they are mentally engaged and ready to take on new challenges. Second, many of our students today come to school unprepared to learn, unprepared to communicate, or unprepared to understand the social dynamics of the classroom.
It is important to note that as the needs of our students change, as demands for individualized education for every child increase, as the needs for social emotional support grow...we as educators must continue to learn and adapt. This is no easy task as the challenges of education continue to change. Teaching today is no longer solely about content knowledge and memorization. Technology, collaborative expectations, and an ever shrinking world has changed the tools our students need in order to be successful. Yet, while content is still vital to student success in a world of high stakes testing, we know we can’t get there until we ensure the whole child is being cared for emotionally.
This of course leads right into my second question...Whose responsibility is it to tackle the social and emotional needs of our students? The answer...educators of course. While I truly believe this starts in the home, many students come without a foundation to build upon in the classroom. Which means many teachers have two options...adapt and learn to educate and support their students, or ignore the social and emotional needs and just focus on content. Yet, there is really only one option...Show me a teacher who loves children, and I will show you a teacher ready to learn to meet his/her students’ needs.
Classroom teachers, counselors, administrators...each day these educators play the role of parent, nurse, food provider, cheerleader, therapist, and of course...teacher.
As our world changes so does our profession, and while I acknowledge we need to continue to grow and adapt, it is daunting to realize the answer to my second question… Whose responsibility is it to tackle all of these concerns? … is in fact, the school’s.
When I entered college as a freshman I knew I was going to graduate as a teacher...it’s what I always wanted to be. Yet despite four years of learning, including one year of student teaching, I left without the fundamental understanding that things were going to change the second I left. I didn’t realize that the learning was never going to stop. That each year brought something new, and that no two years are ever alike. I had no idea that one day I was no longer going to hold all the knowledge in the room...Of course, back then, if you would have told me that students could ask their watch a question and get an answer immediately I would have said you were crazy...so it makes sense changes are always going to come.
In the end there is one thing all educators must remember...we never stop learning. We are never done growing, never done improving, never done learning something new. It seems each year brings new challenges and ideas...the world continues to change, and the expectations placed on our students for the future do as well. Today we are seeing an increase in our understanding of how the brain works, and finding there are very serious social and emotional needs within our classrooms...so what do we do? We learn, we change, we adapt...because after all, we are educators, and educators never stop learning.