Highlands Blog

Social Emotional Learning

Gabe McCool
At Highlands, we teach the whole child. But what does that mean exactly? What are all the parts that make up the whole? In order to answer that question, I think we need to ask ourselves what is our primary purpose of education? What do we want to see our students doing in the future? I think most of us would agree that we want our students to be successful in pursuing their passions while ultimately improving the lives of themselves and others. So of course, in order to accomplish this goal, they need knowledge; the academics, the content. But that is just one piece. What are the rest of the pieces that make up the whole?

Think about your favorite teachers. What did they all have in common? They inspired us. To try harder; to be better. They not only fostered our love of learning but also helped to build our character. They taught us how to recognize our emotions and how to manage and regulate our emotions, thoughts and behavior. They helped us appreciate the differences in others and learn how to see things from another’s point of view. They taught us how to think critically and make responsible choices based on our needs and the needs of others. And they showed us how to form a meaningful and healthy relationship. These are the pieces or competencies that define social-emotional learning or SEL, according to CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). These are the skills that can be fostered and if implemented successfully and truly incorporated into everyday practices, will bring about positive outcomes for our students to put them on the right path to success.

Research shows many positive outcomes of an intentional, schoolwide SEL initiative. Those positive outcomes include deeper, longer-term learning as well as general increased academic performance, improved behavior and attitudes and reduced emotional distress and conduct problems. Not only do effective SEL practices positively affect students, but they also improve teacher effectiveness and well-being. We have a positive school climate at Highlands. People feel welcome and part of a community when they step onto our campus. We truly care about our students. But we also must be purposeful in the type of culture we want to create. We as administrators and school leaders must work to intentionally create an environment where we do what we say we will do. We must provide opportunities for students to feel belonging, like during morning meetings or an inclusive game on the playground. And we must give them choices and chances to take responsibility for their own learning like incorporating project-based learning into the classroom. We must also provide them with a safe place, physically and emotionally, to learn and question and feel mastery or success. It is our responsibility to teach these skills so that they eventually become intrinsically motivated to continue to pursue efforts that will ultimately improve the well-being of themselves, others around them and perhaps society as a whole. We have begun this process and we are committed to making it a priority and devote resources and time for training and professional development as we continue on this ongoing journey. 
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Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

For more information, visit www.highlandsschool.org.