Being Better Together Is Not Always Easy

Being Better Together Is Not Always Easy


A mentor of mine told me to look at a school schedule and budget to see their true priorities. While strategic plan websites - including our own - list commitments, a true priority requires time and money.

The MTS into action strategic plan commits to “infuse social-emotional learning into the daily experience of students.” Our commitment to the social emotional and growth of our students is also evident in our time and resources. During our professional community week in mid August, we dedicated two full days to training with The Institute for Social Emotional Learning (IFSEL), experts in integrating social emotional learning into all aspects of the school day. We will continue professional development training with IFSEL throughout the year and will soon launch a parent speaker series with them this fall. We have committed both time and money to social emotional learning — “But why?” you may ask.

I did not grow up with any lessons on social emotional learning, and I guess neither did you. While the square root of 16 is still four and mitochondria is still the power plant of a cell, a lot has changed since 1990 when I likely learned those useful facts. The world our students inhabit is faster and more complex. We have access to far more information. We have better tools to not just intake but to create as well. The work world  and the best practices of the education world are now more collaborative, hence our theme, Better Together. Our world and our school is more diverse along so many vectors of identity. That diversity yields better educational outcomes and requires new skills along with respectfully understanding and navigating difference. So what has changed? So much.

Speed, complexity, diversity, and collaboration all require that our students have well honed skills in naming and regulating emotions and interacting with others. This need for social and emotional skills has only been exacerbated by the pandemic across the country, and schools have seen an increase in social challenges and mental health crises. Even here at MTS, where we were in school far more than most in this country, we have seen notable social deficits and an increased need for emotional support.

The IFSEL workshop in August helped me clearly see that the time spent on social emotional learning is not a detour from academics, but rather the on-ramp to successful, rigorous learning. Providing our students the tools to manage their own emotions and to work effectively with others – social emotional learning – is critical to their successful engagement with the serious learning we prize at MTS. It is hard to figure out the square root of 169 when you’re still angry about getting out in gaga ball at recess. It is impossible to see mitochondria through a microscope if you can’t work with your lab partner. I have also learned that SEL can be a three minute "check-in" at the start of science or a five minute reflection about how your book group was effective and could’ve been more effective at the end of class.

We are better together. It is true. It is easy to write, and it is easy to remember. The “together“ part, though, is not always easy, and that’s why we are prioritizing social emotional learning in our strategic plan and with time and money.


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