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Weekend Read: Teaching Students Self-Control

In the Washington Post Magazine, Towson University professor Andrew Reiner offers a sweeping look at the disparate approaches schools have taken in their attempts to teach students self-control, which many studies have shown has an impressive correlation to later mental and physical well-being.

He highlights a District of Columbia charter school that uses the "no excuses" model made famous by KIPP charter schools (the very same model Deborah Meier and Elliott Witney are playing tug-of-war about on the Bridging Differences blog this week). "The boot-camp expectations, the behavioral charts, the pinnies [which students wear when being disciplined] all point to a calculated attempt to teach students self-discipline, focus, accountability—ultimately, self-control," Reiner writes.

Other schools are teaching mindfulness, including meditative breathing, self-dialogue, and even yoga. (In fact, a friend who teaches P.E. in a public school and is a also certified yoga instructor excitedly brought this article to my attention.)

And perhaps most prevalently, schools are using social-emotional learning programs. Reiner explains:

SEL curricula teach children greater self-awareness and empathy, as well as the steps for handling conflict constructively and for creating positive relationships with peers, teachers and their larger communities. It's character-based education meets Mr. Rogers.

He points to the Responsive Classroom program, which Education Week reporter Jaclyn Zubrzycki covered recently, noting that one study showed it correlated with an increase in test scores. Reiner also says that "of the three approaches to teaching self-control, SEL is the one poised to make the biggest splash in mainstream public classrooms," noting that advocates are hoping it might one day get some traction in Congress (though a 2011 bill to promote SEL in schools died in committee).

Having done some research about the importance of students' social-emotional development, as part of a larger story on school counselors, I've been thinking a lot about how this type of learning fits in with the new common-core standards and the push for greater teacher accountability. Will teachers leave less room for social-emotional programs and lessons given all the new academic demands on them? Are school and district leaders aware of the research about how self-control and other behavioral factors may be just as, if not more, important as test scores in predicting college and career success?

If Reiner's article is any indication, some school leaders aren't just aware of the research—they're heeding it.

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