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Reading, Writing, Empathy: The Rise of ?Social Emotional Learning?

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By Courtney Martin

Marc Brackett never liked school. ?I was always bored,? he says, ?and I never felt like any of my teachers really cared. I can?t think of anybody that made me feel inspired.?

It?s a surprising complaint coming from a 42-year-old Yale research scientist with a 27-page CV and nearly $4 million in career funding. But Brackett knows that many kids feel the way he does about school, and he wants to do a complete emotional makeover of the nation?s schools.

At a time of contentious debate over how to reform schools to make teachers more effective and students more successful, ?social emotional learning? may be a key part of the solution. An outgrowth of the emotional intelligence framework, popularized by Daniel Goleman, SEL teaches children how to identify and manage emotions and interactions. One of the central considerations of an evolved EQ?as proponents call an ?emotional quotient??is promoting empathy, a critical and often neglected quality in our increasingly interconnected, multicultural world.

Brackett quickly learned that developing empathy in kids requires working on their teachers first. Ten years ago, he and his colleagues introduced a curriculum about emotions in schools, asking teachers to implement it in their own classrooms. When he observed the lessons, he was struck by the discomfort many of the instructors showed in talking about emotion. ?There was one teacher who took the list of feelings we had provided and crossed out all of what she perceived of as ?negative? emotions before asking the students to identify what they were feeling,? Brackett says. ?We realized that if the teachers didn?t get it, the kids never would.?

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Boosting self-Esteem, self-confidence and emotional intelligence are at the root of An Exercise in Happiness? and children in Elementary through Middle School deserve to be given the tools to help them develop these qualities. www.kidscandoanything.com


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