Compelling education research and brain science now demonstrate what parents have always known: the success of young people in school and beyond is inextricably linked to healthy social and emotional development. Yet the nation’s predominant approach to K-12 education fails to fully take advantage of what we know about how people learn. From the schoolhouse to the state house, we have emphasized ―appropriately― the rigorous academic skills our students need to be ready for college and the workforce. However, we need to complement this focus on academic achievement with the development of social and emotional skills that are equally essential for students to thrive in school, careers, and life.
To make this vision a reality, the Aspen Institute this week announced the National Commission on Social and Emotional Development. Over the next two years, this Commission will sponsor the most important conversation in a generation about what constitutes success for our schools and our students. The Commission will forge a unified voice among researchers, educators, practitioners, and policymakers about the urgency of making social and emotional development an essential component of K-12 education. Through an inclusive and deliberative process, the Commission will develop a roadmap with specific action steps in research, practice, and policy that will point the way toward a new era of education ― one that addresses the needs of the whole student.
The Commission is co-chaired by three proven leaders:
Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO, Learning Policy Institute, and Charles E. Ducommun Professor Emeritus at Stanford University;
Governor John Engler, president, Business Roundtable, and former three-term Governor (R) of Michigan;
Dr. Tim Shriver, co-founder and chair, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and chairman of the Special Olympics.
In addition to these leaders, the Commission includes classroom teachers, school superintendents, governors, and distinguished leaders from the fields of health, education, business, and the military. The Commission also will be informed by councils of distinguished scientists and educators, and a parent advisory panel as well as key institutional partners. A Youth Commission will ensure that young people have a leading role in setting the agenda and contributing their real-time insights to the conversation.
Over the coming months, the Commissioners will conduct site visits and field hearings to elevate promising practices from schools and districts across the country and to learn about the innovative policies that support their work. They will listen to parents, educators, community members and policy experts to identify the best ideas and how they can be taken to scale. Above all, the Commission will be guided by science and the best evidence regarding what works to improve education and life outcomes.
I know from personal experience that students need schools to take responsibility for addressing the full complement of their educational needs. When I was a juvenile public defender in Newark, New Jersey, I saw the downward spiral that resulted from the lack of trusting and supportive relationships with adults and other students. Then, as president of the Montgomery County (MD) School Board, I learned how important it is to have a policy environment that embraces these priorities when our district strove to fully integrate social and emotional development into our strategic framework.
As the research shows, there is no single best way to integrate social and emotional development with academic development. The Commission will develop recommendations that respect the unique values and priorities in different states, communities, and schools. A single, one-size-fits-all approach won’t work and is not on the table. That said, all students deserve to go to a school that provides a comprehensive approach to learning and development that prepares them to thrive in school, in our evolving 21st century workplace, and in life.
To lend your support and join this important conversation, follow us on Twitter @AspenSEAD.