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Breaking Down the Wall of Prejudice in Your Classroom with Social-Emotional Learning Skills

There is a curious truth about the interconnectedness of the SEL competencies social awareness and relationship skills. We use them every day in various social settings relating to others. Could we assume a universal proficiency when these basic life skills are continually in use?

Open your favorite news media site on any given day and you see reports of prejudice, racism, and gender inequity. Every day we see many socially aware people not relating very well to each other.

And that is why educators need to infuse the SEL skills of social awareness and relationship skills in their programming. Counter any negative influences in a child’s emotional life with sound knowledge about these integral parts of human development.

Look around any classroom. It is a microcosm of our world with diverse individuals and groups. It presents the ideal platform for learning about how to relate to others. Children are not born hating others. It is learned behavior.

The backbone of positive relationship skills is found in empathy, compassion and understanding toward others
The backbone of positive relationship skills is found in empathy, compassion and understanding toward others

Where do we begin with social awareness and relationship education?

The backbone of positive relationship skills is found in empathy, compassion and understanding toward others. The value of understanding and empathizing with others means your students see beyond themselves and see their world in a broader context. There is more to life than their own personal perspective.

For children to think outside themselves they need to feel good about themselves. Healthy self-esteem forms the foundation of positive relationships. To develop those healthy interpersonal relationships, we begin with the most important relationship in our life and that is the one we have with ourselves.

In her recent book, the Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden wrote, “The longest conversation we have in life is with ourselves.’ That quote is a starting point for classroom discussion. Help your students begin to understand that truth by first considering their self-talk.

As an educator, you must look inward at yourself as well. Considering all these previously mentioned factors ask yourself some hard questions. Where do you stand on prejudice? Do you feel you have any biases? If so, how do you rationalize them? You cannot begin any classroom discussion without first knowing what your personal attitudes are toward these issues. Remember that it is possible, no matter what your opinions, to remain neutral in class.

A personal experience highlights neutrality is possible, even with strong personal opinions. A passionate member of Sinn Féin gave an impartial lecture about the state of Northern Ireland when I was at a conference in Belfast a few years ago. It was only afterward I learned, quite by chance, where he was aligned politically. His presentation about a volatile topic was objective despite his strong beliefs. It can be done.

You want your students to make informed decisions based on the facts. We contend with fake news in today’s world. Very recent research has found that fake news is not partisan but a result of ‘lazy thinking’. It is not so much attitude but attention to the truth that is the issue. Shake up your students and get them beyond lazy in their thinking and help them realize the importance of the truth. The future will thank you -the educator.

 For the classroom teacher to create an effective step in a student’s ever-evolving social abilities you must first assess a starting point. What do they know and what do they think they know?  It has been my experience we often assume students understand a word like prejudice and the truth of the matter is that there is a particularly good chance they do not.

Begin with the quite simple question ‘What is_? “Then listen to what they say.
Begin with the quite simple question ‘What is_? “Then listen to what they say.

Begin with the quite simple question ‘What is_? “Then listen to what they say. Guide the discussion and let them talk. Then ask them “Why is this so? “The basis of SEL competencies is the ability to communicate effectively. As the discussion evolves you are looking for the qualities of active listeningemotional control, and respect for others in your students.

This is also the time to explain the importance of well-supported opinions. We know the damage done by fake news and this is another opportunity to remind them that facts matter. A good argument is like a table with four legs. It is sturdy. Lose a leg and it gets wobbly. Lose too many and the table falls over. Clear and concise thinking is the goal. Point out to the class that simply asking – ‘Why do you think that to be true?’ is a most effective way to find out what is behind an opinion.

Commit your students to the goal of understanding these social skills just like any other academic subject. They will learn respect for others and the appreciation of our diverse world. Empathy and compassion are building blocks of character.

Life is not perfect. We do not like everyone we meet. And they in turn might not like us.  But we can respect them. Ask students why respect for others is important and then determine acceptable ways to deal with people they may not really like. Those are difficult social situations that happen throughout life. Let them role-play appropriate responses to add to their life skills tool kit.

Socially -emotional learning is lifelong learning and emotional skills are not static skills. They improve with knowledge and understanding.

When educators are focused on the skills of social awareness and relationships, it has a spillover effect. Your students will go home and talk to their parents about these issues. That in turn, gets the community thinking about them. Everyone benefits.

For social-emotional learning classroom and parenting ideas and a link to my Amazon book connect with me on Twitter @LinSimpson66 or @savvysophic on Instagram.

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Linda Simpson
Linda Simpson was trained at The Peace Education Foundation which opened the door to a decade spent facilitating conflict resolution and social-emotional learning (SEL) workshops and conferences across her school, school district and at the university faculty of education level. For several years, she blogged for Huffington Post Canada with the focus of the writing centering on parenting issues, life after divorce, and the occasional social commentary. She writes a divorce coaching column Letters to Linda, personal essays and poetry for The Divorce Magazine UK. She has just published her first book in a parenting series on Amazon.

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