Educators across the country have known for years that the social emotional well being of their students is a critical component of knowing their learners. The importance of understanding a students background, their life story, and what events have shaped their journey to date are essential to the progress we make in our classrooms each day.
Even with all of this knowledge and the desire to shield our children and our students from the cruel realities of society, students are more fragile than ever before. Self-harm, anxiety and depression continue to be a topic of teachers and administrators to not only start a school year, but also is a weekly point of conversation with counselors, social workers and most importantly, parents. Anxiety is real. It's impact is life-changing.
Now, connect this to your own personal story and your own struggles as an adult growing up and taking on your role to teach. And/or, for those of you that may have your own children, how has your parenting evolved into something that you most likely didn't recall as how your own parents raised you? Times are changing. Children are living in world that many adults are not familiar with. The days of "ignoring it" are gone. We must take action.
Last year about this time I was handed a book from a colleague that was authored by Kate Fagan. It was a read that I was not familiar with but one that I was encouraged to dive into. Especially having two high school seniors beginning their journey of their next chapter of their lives. The decision of college, athletics at the next level and more were on my horizon, and theirs, and it was coming quickly.
The book, What Made Maddy Run, is an unbelievably challenging book to read. Not because of the level of vocabulary or the fine print, yet due to the hard truths of young adults and the struggles they face with depression, anxiety and the fear of failure. What was equally as powerful (and painful) was that I was reading this through the lens of an educator and as a parent. And, as hard as it was to read, I could not put it down. I was drawn in. I was learning. My own response, reaction and support would soon grow.
The statistics state that too many times over the story of Maddy is a common one across campuses. While Maddy had an amazing family, supportive friends and she excelled in the classroom, there was a side of her that was never fully understood. Or worse, never heard. Part of that was due to her control. Part of that was due to the adults not necessarily recognizing the signs. And, on top of all of those previously mentioned favorable life factors, she was an amazing athlete. Maddy was a "picture perfect" image of a young adult who had the world in front of her and dreams that couldn't be stopped.
And then it did. Abruptly and suddenly and to her family and friends, shockingly.
Where are you in your understanding of social emotional learning in your space? If you are anything like me, you are still learning and growing and searching for resources to make you that much more responsive to our students needs. With that in mind, I would encourage you to pick up this book and give it a read. It won't be easy. It gets uncomfortable. It is painful. Yet it is also a look into the life of a young person who seems to have it all but the truth was far from the reality. You will be better for having read it. And, you will be better prepared to support your students and your children along the way.
We must continue to get a deeper understanding of the social emotional state of the young people coming to their classroom door each day. It is essential. Understanding their hope, their sense of belonging and even their grit, should now be a part of our daily work. While Maddy on the surface may have had many of these attributes, we discovered in the end she was lacking many. It was the layers that were not peeled back that could have revealed a different ending to her story.
So, continue to explore and continue to learn. Connect with others and keep the conversation going of social emotional learning in schools. Continue to locate the vast resources that exist. Especially from within your district and from your colleagues.
Same articles of interest on social emotional learning are:
The Future of Eduction depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here's Why From EdSurge
No Place for Social Emotional Learning in Schools. Are You Sure? By Peter DeWitt
How "Kindness Contagion" improves lives, especially now. From The Washington Post