This blog by Michael Jascz delineates why social and emotional learning is an invaluable component to a school’s health curriculum. I couldn’t have said it better myself – and wish I had!

This component of my work at Freedom Institute does just this – we work to prevent our children from resorting to unhealthy means (such as bullying or illicit drug abuse) to attain their emotional needs.

By addressing the issue preventively as opposed to intervening after an act, we allow our children to develop a healthier sense of self and have fulfilling interpersonal relationships. I view social/emotional learning as exercise for the psyche. We exercise for several reasons: to feel stronger, healthier, to achieve a particular aesthetic, and it’s fun (I hope!).

We know that if we engage in regular exercise the likelihood of developing illness such as heart disease is greatly reduced. Why? Because our cardiovascular system grows in strength. Likewise, in any social/emotional health class, students explore tough situations, growing the psychic capacity for increased affect regulation, empathy and delayed gratification.

These long term gains may be overlooked by the need to see immediate short term changes. I don’t think preventive work and immediate changes are mutually exclusive.

Often in my work, students feel safe enough to share their experiences either publicly during a workshop or privately afterward. I recall an instance of a boy I was particularly aware of during a workshop series. I was doing two workshops with his grade and at the beginning of the first class, I observed him bullying several students while the class settled down. During our second class, the students and I came up with several things they could do to be upstanders.* The boy chimed in, “Katherine, I think I am a bully!” I looked up at the teacher who nodded in agreement.

I acknowledged how brave it was to admit that in front of his class. Instantaneously, several students agreed and shared how he had hurt them. I was immediately afraid of what would happen but he said, “I know….I shouldn’t do that anymore.” The teacher and I agreed she would contact his mother to let her know about his epiphany and provide more support for her son. This is exactly what Mr. Jascz points out in his post, “In a safe environment where students are encouraged to discuss their emotions and needs, aggression naturally decreases as students are better able to understand themselves and empathize with others.”

The timing of my blog going live and having the film, ‘Bully’ open was coincidental. The momentum of the film’s press has propelled this topic out of the background and into the foreground of our collective consciousness. Let’s continue to keep it this way!

*If you don’t know what an upstander is read my previous post

Teacher photo available at Shutterstock.