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Here's What Parents Think Social-Emotional Learning Should Look Like

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By Diana Prichard

As my oldest daughter prepares for her final year of high school, I find myself reflecting on our experience with the country's education system thus far. Our family is fortunate. While our oldest daughter spent a few years in a district that struggled to support her, since early elementary she's attended a school that values students as individuals rather than empty vessels for filling with knowledge. The result has been an imperfect, but gratifying journey through childhood and adolescence.

To our delight, it's a journey that has developed a young lady of strong character, who has deep ties to her community and a thirst for personal growth. And we, like most parents, hope it leads to a fulfilling life. In fact, it's with this in mind that I joined the Parent Advisory Panel to the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development last year. I saw what a lackluster educational environment can mean for students firsthand, and then witnessed what it meant for a child to be able to bloom when placed in a better fit later.

Over the past sixteen months, I have collaborated with fourteen other parents from across the country to explore ways we can provide every student that opportunity to bloom. Together, we have decades of experience bringing up children and navigating the terrain of America's schools. We are diverse in geography, race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, family structure, and, perhaps most strikingly, political belief. Yet, we've come together through it all to explore ways our children and their peers may be better served in their classrooms, extracurriculars, and communities.

Earlier this month, much of our work culminated in a Family Call to Action that we invite our fellow parents and adults who care about kids to sign. Through eleven specific recommendations under five key points, we've designed a practical roadmap that every school can use to develop a culture of social, emotional, and academic excellence in a way that complements the unique needs of the surrounding community. And it's a roadmap that fellow parents can use when communicating with their schools about the need to comprehensively support students.

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By viewing children of all backgrounds through their strengths and moving away from one-size-fits-all policies and procedures, for instance, we can better know and teach the whole student.

By including families in the development of new policies and strategies--and communicating clearly, concisely, early, and often--we can empower families to be active partners in their children's education.

By including social and emotional training in on-going professional development opportunities; making school staff members' mental health a priority; and including school board members and other decision makers in discussions about the interconnection among the social, emotional, and academic components of learning, we can better support the adults who support our children.

By ensuring students feel safe--not just physically, socially, and emotionally, but also intellectually--and by shifting resources that are being inefficiently or ineffectively used for programs that would be better addressed through a whole student approach to education, we can surpass programmatic bureaucracy to truly integrate social, emotional, and academic growth into the school culture and climate.

And finally, by better aligning all the settings where students learn and develop, and seeking community partnerships that provide students with opportunities to practice their social, emotional, and academic skills, we can develop an approach to learning that engages the whole community. 

We invite you to join us in pressing for action toward an ever better education system for American students. Sign on here, share the sign-on page with your friends and family, and don't forget to download a copy of the report to share with the school and community leaders where you live. Together, we can give students the tools they need to navigate all their tomorrows.

Photo: Diana Prichard speaks with former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on a panel on the Family Call to Action. (© The Aspen Institute: Photo by Laurence Genon)

Diana Prichard is a freelance writer who has covered food security, agriculture, education and national security from three continents, as well as a member of the National Commission's Parent Advisory Panel. She lives and works on a tiny hog farm in Michigan.

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