Over the past month, I have represented School District No. 27 at a couple of different meetings that some might view as outside the scope of public education.
The first meeting was hosted by Williams Lake’s Violence Awareness & Prevention Committee. The meeting was held to discuss opportunities to collaborate within our community to more effectively address domestic violence.
There were at least ten to fifteen different organizations represented, ranging from the RCMP to Chiwid Transition House to social service organizations to us from the school district. Most of these organizations are primarily involved in dealing with domestic violence through intervention after the violence has already occurred. As I looked around the room, I realized that the school district might be the only organization represented that could be considered to be in the domestic violence prevention business. While we certainly deal with intervention when our students are either victims of domestic violence themselves or witnesses to domestic violence, I was also reminded that almost all future abusers also spend much of their formative years in our classrooms.
The second meeting in which I participated was the Blue Ribbon Panel on Crime Reduction Roundtable. This meeting was chaired by MLA and criminologist Dr. Darryl Plecas, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Crime Reduction. Prior to his election as MLA for Abbotsford South, Dr. Plecas was the RCMP Research Chair and Director for the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research at the University of the Fraser Valley, where he has worked for 34 years.
Dr. Plecas and his Blue Ribbon Panel were in Williams Lake to listen to leaders in the community respond to the following four questions:
1. What are the crime issues in our community and how are they being tackled ?
2. What is working well to reduce crime ?
3. What are the challenges and opportunities ?
4. What can we do to reduce crime further ?
Other presenters included Mayor Kerry Cook, RCMP Inspector Warren Brown, Community Safety Coordinator Dave Dickson, Esketemc Chief Fred Robbins, and City Manager of Social Development Anne Burrill. It was an honour to be invited to present with such a strong team.
An even bigger honour was to be included in the conversation in the first place. While I prefer to talk about crime prevention over crime reduction, it may simply be wordplay. Crime prevention may not have been what educators signed up for when they chose their careers, but if we believe that teaching and modeling civic responsibility and global citizenship are roles we play as educators, crime prevention is certainly a part of that equation.
To these ends, perhaps we need to continue to have more of a focus on social emotional learning (SEL) in education.
What is social emotional learning? Self-awareness, self-management, responsibile decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness make up the five domains of CASEL’s (Collaborative for Academic,
Social, and Emotional Learning) core competencies.
Of course, these aren’t new topics for teachers. For many years now, Positive Behaviour Support (previously known as Effective Behaviour Support in our district) has formalized the teaching of good behaviours within a school-wide system.
For the last few years, most elementary schools in the Williams Lake area have also used a program called Positive Action.
In 2010, Communities That Care implemented Positive Action in many of our elementary schools. Positive Action is an evidence based program with a comprehensive system of components that works to increase positive behaviours and decrease negative behaviours. The universal philosophy that you feel good about yourself when you do positive actions provides the foundation for all the components of the Positive Action program.
Positive Action’s primary goal is to enhance self-concept. It’s designed to promote total wellness, competency, and healthy lifestyles in individuals. Students develop personal potential, responsibility, understanding, social skills, and techniques for creative problem solving. It’s about empowering students to understand for themselves how they work and then teaching them the skills they need to create happy and successful lives and relationships. The Positive Action “Word of the Week” is now used in daycares, pre-school programs, after school programs, and other community groups and businesses. (If you’d like to know more about Positive Action, the “Word of the Week”, or Communites that Care, contact Carla Bullinger at (250) 267-8249 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In describing some of our school, district, and community programs, I don’t mean to imply that SEL is and was not already a regular part of many teachers’ classrooms. In fact, SEL is so ingrained in our daily activites with students that many of us would likely underestimate the extent of its power. However, I would make the argument that SEL sometimes takes a backseat to other curriculum content as students advance from Kindergarten through Grade 12. Depending on the subject area, covering curriculum and exam preparation take precedence over discussions around learning in the social-emotional sphere.
There’s a lot of evidence to support that at the school level and a district level, we have more of a focus on social emotional learning in education than we have had in the past, but is that focus also being seen at the provincial level? In some ways, that is a definite yes. Through the ERASE training, teacher representatives and administrators have received excellent training over the last two years related to bullying prevention and threat assessment. However, are we also seeing this same focus in the new curriculum? We do know that the new curriculum takes into account that our students are living in the Information Age and that ingesting purely content should not be a top priority, but is SEL reflected in the new curriculum as it could or should be?
In the Ministry of Education’s guide “Preventing Bullying & Ensuring Safe and Caring Communities”, the benefits of SEL are outlined well:
“When students feel good, they are more likely to learn. If they feel good about themselves, they are more likely to engage with others in school activities and events. When schools focus on SEL and infuse it into the curriculum from kindergarten right up to graduation, academic achievement increases, incidents of bullying decrease, violence is reduced, attendance increases and better grades are achieved. This supports the creation of an open school system , promotes community engagement and wellness and leads to students becoming well-adjusted, productive citizens.” (Page 18)
There may be some who read this who believe that social emotional learning should be the responsibilities of parents and families. I would completely agree that in a perfect world, that would certainly be the case. The fact is that we are not living in a perfect world. In some cases, our students may be receiving very little guidance from their parents in these areas. If so, educators who spend five to six hours a day with these students have the best opportunity to fill this gap. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
Is this an unfair expectation for our schools? Maybe, but if we don’t continue to fill this gap, who will?
I invite feedback and comments to any of my blog entries. As the administrator of the blog, I approve all comments before they hit the public domain. While I do not mind comments that disagree with my point of view, I will not post comments that I deem to be inappropriate, those which are personal attacks, or those which refer to specific personnel. I also will not post comments from anonymous or nicknamed sources. While one of my goals for this blog is open a dialogue, it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved. Thanks for considering this before making a comment. – Mark