The Importance of Social, Emotional, and Ethical Learning

Social and emotional learning has become one of the most talked-about concepts in modern education. Jennifer Knox, Woodward's Director of Character Education and the Ron M. Brill Chair for Ethical Leadership Development, wrote this piece for Front Porch Magazine about the value of Social, Emotional, and Ethical Learning. Enjoy!

“Social and emotional learning” are more than just buzzwords. I oversee an initiative to incorporate the Social, Emotional, and Ethical (SEE) Learning Curriculum developed by the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics at Emory University. 

What is SEE Learning?

Increasingly, scientific research demonstrates that human values can be trained as skills given the appropriate methods for doing so; that such training can result in measurable benefits for both physical and psychological health; and that these prosocial values correlate with ethical action in real-world situations, leading to better outcomes for self and others. SEE Learning, or Social and Emotional Learning 2.0, provides educators and their students with specific methods, techniques, and approaches to cultivating resilience, compassion, and other basic values important for individual and collective flourishing. Rather than a top-down approach, SEE Learning uses constructivist methods: students are exposed to many viewpoints, engage in insight activities, and then use reflective tools to move their values from being merely “head knowledge” to being deeply rooted within their hearts and minds.

Why now?

Since ancient times, educators have known that a comprehensive education must include helping students to cultivate character and ethical discernment, as well as providing students with knowledge and practical skills. The causes of our societal problems—from an increase in anxiety and school violence to environmental degradation to national security—lie not only in external conditions, but also in the decisions that we as human beings make based on our values. These values have great practical value as well because employers increasingly recognize that training in “soft skills” result in long-term success for the individual.

I’m deeply honored to help school administration, faculty, staff, and pre-K to 12th graders incorporate SEE curriculum in counseling, advisory, mindfulness practices, and responsive classroom design, and I’m so grateful knowing the resiliency skills and ethical dispositions we are cultivating will pay themselves forward immeasurably.

Jennifer Knox is the Woodward Academy’s Director of Character Education and the Ron M. Brill Chair for Ethical Leadership Development, where she oversees the implementation of the SEE Learning Program and supports Academy-wide work with character and leadership development, service learning, and equity and inclusion. She has also conducted Cognitively-based Compassion Training (CBCT®) and facilitated SEE Learning Educator Prep Workshops with educators at schools around the country and abroad.

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