April 15, 2013

The ABCs of self-control help spell success

Schools are seeing the benefits of new approaches to education

By ANDREW REINER The Washington Post

(Continued from page 2)

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Christopher Rios, left, and Kenneth Scott line up at D.C. Prep in Washington, which places an emphasis on teaching children self-control.

Matt McClain/The Washington Post

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The school’s walls are plastered with motivational posters.

Matt McClain/The Washington Post

When Mindful Schools partnered with the University of California at Davis to see if this practice benefited inner-city children in three Oakland elementary schools, the results left a crater imprint: 84 percent of teachers believed their students calmed more easily, and 61 percent of students said they developed better focus in class.

Researchers from the Prevention Research Center at Penn State University and Johns Hopkins joined forces with the Holistic Life Foundation, a Baltimore nonprofit that teaches yoga to at-risk youth and teachers. This September the triumvirate will begin the second half of a study in which Holistic Life and educators bring yoga into six elementary and middle schools.

"We're taking the practice of the mat into their lives," says Holistic Life co-founder Ali Smith.


The third front on teaching self-control -- social emotional learning, or SEL -- is exactly what it sounds like. The brainchild of psychologist Daniel Goleman in the 1990s, SEL presumes that the answer to America's education woes lies not in more standardized test prep but in considering the overlooked emotional needs of kids.

SEL curricula teach children greater self-awareness and empathy, as well as the steps for handling conflict constructively and for creating positive relationships with peers, teachers and their larger communities.

Of the three approaches to teaching self-control, SEL is the one poised to make the biggest splash in mainstream public classrooms. The Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2011 was introduced in Congress to spread the SEL gospel. The bill died in committee, but SEL inspired dedicated acolytes.

One is Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, the same Tim Ryan who wrote a book on mindfulness and spearheaded SEL programs in Ohio. Ryan and Roger Weissberg, head of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, are lobbying the Obama administration to include SEL in its new proposals to reduce school violence.

Another acolyte is the NoVo Foundation, a New York nonprofit that is committed to funding people who strive for "sustainable," "transformative" change. The amount that NoVo gives to CASEL varies each year; since 2008 the total has hovered near $14 million.

Responsive Classroom is one of the most widely embraced blueprints for teaching SEL at the elementary school level. It follows the premise that children learn best and grow into responsible citizens when they are taught to cultivate their emotional, as well as intellectual, needs.

A three-year longitudinal study by the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education compared children at three schools using the Responsive Classroom approach with those at three control schools.

Responsive Classroom children showed greater increases in reading and math test scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test; teachers felt more effective in teaching discipline; teachers felt that they offered more high-quality instruction; and children felt more positive about school.

Results from this study, conducted between 2001 and 2004, help explain why CASEL has partnered with citywide school systems for grades K-12 in Chicago, Cleveland, Austin and Anchorage.

On NoVo's Web site, PS 307 teacher Martina Meijer says: "The process is transformative. The kids have grown tremendously since the beginning of the year in their ability to analyze their actions, predict consequences, and see other things they could have done."

Faculty members say lunchrooms and hallways are calmer, teachers and students interact better, and suspensions have dropped.

"This is the future of education," Weissberg says. "Persistence. Self-management. Problem-solving. This is what our kids need to learn."

Andrew Reiner teaches in the Honors College at Towson College.


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