K-12 Education

National Commission Facebook “LIVE” interview with Eric Gordon & Antwan Wilson

May 18, 2017  • National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

Education leaders discuss strategies to support social emotional learning and lessons learned from Cleveland’s investment in this area.

Speakers from left to right:
Eric Gordon, CEO of Cleveland Metropolitan School District
Jim Shelton, President of Education at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Antwan Wilson, Chancellor of DC Public Schools

Posted by The Aspen Institute on Monday, May 1, 2017

The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development visited Cleveland last week to see first-hand how the district approaches social and emotional learning. Jim Shelton, a member of the Commission and president of education for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, took a few moments out of the busy schedule to do a Facebook Live interview with Eric Gordon, chief executive officer of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Antwan Wilson, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Gordon is a member of the Commission’s Council of Distinguished Educators, while Wilson is also a Commissioner. They discussed what social and emotional development is; how it connects with and supports academic development; and how students, teachers, and schools benefit from the practice. Here are some highlights from the interview.

What does social, emotional and academic development look like in Cleveland?

The district teaches five core skills: self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others’ feelings, the ability to manage a relationship with another person, and problem solving, which involves using the first four skills to successfully navigate situations, Gordon said. The Cleveland superintendent stressed that “it’s an enduring set of practices that every child—and every adult—needs to be successful.”

What are the benefits of SEAD?

Social and emotional learning skills provide a solid foundation for academic learning. Take self-management as an example. Too often, Wilson said, students who aren’t successful fixate on what’s happening to them. “We want students to understand that they play a role. Did you study, did you read, did you do your homework?” he said. Or are there ways to proactively relate to others that elicits improvement in how they, in turn, respond to you? These abilities set the conditions for learning so that students can create, critique, and receive feedback, he said.

Gordon noted that Cleveland has seen a significant decline in disciplinary incidents and an increase in attendance and reading and mathematics scores since embracing social and emotional learning. He also pointed to evidence in the field that shows how SEAD lays a foundation for job performance and satisfaction later in life.

Both superintendents agreed that developing social and emotional skills shouldn’t be seen as just for students who are members of minority groups, live in low-income households, or attend schools in urban settings. “Every one of us needs to develop these capacities,” Gordon said.

How do you create shared ownership of this approach and help it take root in schools and communities?

While finding a common language about SEAD and why it’s important isn’t easy, the superintendents said, such work is crucial in helping the practice take root.

Teachers need the same set of social and emotional skills that they’re trying to develop in students, so that they understand and can manage their emotions and “bring their best selves” to school, both district leaders said. That will involve making teachers feel supported in their work and providing professional development, they noted.

Teaching social and emotional skills means that parents will see schools where students are successful and want to be, Wilson said, and notice positive changes in how students relate to others and how they think about their own futures.