The new education system is moving away from assessments and standards-based grading to educating the child in a holistic manner.
Most states have adopted policies to integrate social-emotional learning in the school curriculum, increasingly recognizing that social and emotional development plays a critical role in students’ ability to learn. The Guam Department of Education is gearing toward this approach as it moves away from assessments and standards-based grading to educating the child in a holistic manner.
“What we're really focused on is teaching children at an early age to identify their own emotions and understand what's going on with them physiologically,” said Corey Notestine, a counselor from Colorado, who was among the resource speakers at the Guam Association of School Counselors conference held on March 27.
At the conference, GDOE counselors were reminded that in order for students to have a better future, schools must provide them the opportunities and support to develop mentally and emotionally.
“Once they do that, what skills and strategies can they put in place to self-regulate. We often see that children struggle with self-regulation and emotional-regulation,” Notestine said.
Social and emotional learning is defined as “the process through which children acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, establish positive relationships and make responsible decisions.” Research showed students who participate in school-based social-emotional learning programs perform measurably better in school than peers without exposure to SEL.
“Schools now are focused on social emotional learning,” said Katherine Pastor-Lorents, a counselor from Arizona.
Pastor-Lorents acknowledges that many educators may feel lost or ill at ease adapting to the new shift. “We're disrupting what education used to look like. Maybe some of the teachers feel like they're going to more and more meetings because there are more early childhood detection happening,” she said.
The new focus on learning entails new strategies. “It's now more of a team approach in schools. Student supports are now brought into schools to help identify interventions or accommodations they can build into day to day operations of students,” Pastor-Lorents said. “When we can be more proactive than reactive, students get to stay in class more as opposed to disciplinary actions that take them out of class.”
Pastor-Lorents said the new approach to educating children also requires more parental involvement. “We need parents to be partners with our educators and be aware of what's going on in the schools so they can help support what the teachers and administrators and counselors are doing,” she said. “If a student is learning a mindfulness lesson, the parents can help bring that into the home and facilitate it not just in school but what in the family does.”
Counselors Corey Notestine and Katherine Pastor-Lorents from Colorado and Arizona, respectively, were among the speakers at Guam Association of School Counsellors Conference held on Guam in March 2019. Photo by Johanna Salinas
Notestine is aware that factors preventing students from healthy emotional or mental health can also prevent them from succeeding in school. “What we're thinking isn’t just how does compound traumatic experiences change how we connect with students academically,” he said, “but what other types of skills should we empower our teachers with in order to help them recognize when a child starts to shut down because of something in class that might've triggered them or create anxiety with that child.”
Notestine agrees that it is vital to detect students at risk or in need of care. “We've been putting greater emphasis on a continuum of support through and because of that we're identifying students with needs and the right support to put in place around them,” he said. “We're wrapping more supports around students more than we've used to. People are coming together collaboratively to find support for students who struggle.”
Pastor-Lorents said parents should be the driving force behind children’s well-being and that they must not feel shy or out of place when interacting with their children’s school. Working with indigenous families, Pastor-Lorents tries to find ways for parents to feel welcome and be a part of school culture. “In my town we have a high Navajo and Hopi culture. A lot of times parents feel educators are people in respect and authority,” she explained. “As a school we have to be aware of cultural biases we might bring, or how we're responding in languages that might not seem friendly to parents.”
Pastor-Loretns suggests different ways to reach out to parents. “We can have more afternoon or evening or weekend programs for families to come in,” she said. “If you have parents working two jobs, it's really difficult for them to attend parent teacher conference.”
Pastor-Lorents suggests using the social media to engage parents. “Social media can lend a hand with Facebook-Live events. Our school does open houses and informational sessions online,” she said. “Parents watch them on their own time and still feel like they're a part of the school culture. There are some counselors here on Guam who do different culture awareness meetings and bring in parents to help them do that.”
She noted that many parents need to be asked to help “because they don't want to overstep their bounds thinking that educators know what they're doing.”
Notestine believes parents and educators must guide students in deciding what they want after high school. “As family units, we have limited knowledge of what's out there. Early on in our lives, as we develop a sense of who we are and what we might do with our future, we tend to look to what's around us—we don't see what isn't there,” he said. “What we can do is expose our children to as many things as possible, so they can find what their passion, maybe relate to a career or a future career that isn't created yet. Children should understand how to utilize their skills to be successful in a future job.”
The best thing teachers and families can do, Notestine said, is to challenge children's thinking about what they want to do and help them determine if what they want to do aligns with their skills and passion.