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As Social and Emotional Learning Expands, Educators Fear the ‘Fizzle’

Oakland Unified is one of hundreds of school districts in California that have adopted social skill-building in an effort to move from zero-tolerance discipline and drill-and-kill curriculum toward a more nuanced approach to the behavioral and academic needs of students. Oakland Unified has boiled down the concept to three signature teacher practices, most of them familiar to accomplished teachers: a warm welcome at the start of the day, perhaps with a morning circle depending on the age of the students; “engaging” teaching, such as encouraging students to pipe up with their opinions while learning how to listen to the opinions of others; closing out the school day on an optimistic note by asking students to take a moment to consider what they’ve learned or someone they’ve helped today.

“There has been an explosion of interest in this work,” Emily Doolittle, a researcher at the federal National Center for Education Research, said at a panel discussion late last month of leaders in the field who contributed to a new issue of the journal The Future of Children dedicated to social and emotional learning. And with that explosion has come heightened concern among proponents about how to spare social and emotional learning from the fate of many ideas in education: the fizzle.