A few years ago I was “voluntold” by my principal that I was going to be the chair of my school’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) committee. This task has introduced me to a new network of scholars and colleagues interested in infusing SEL into core content instruction. Occasionally I review books on this blog and in my workshops I often include a Book Pass activity to help educators understand the wide variety of activities, constructs, methods, and strategies that are available to help them with SEL instruction. This post will review Empower Your Students (2018) and Two-For-One Teaching (2020) by Lauren Porosoff and Jonathan Weinstein.
These books remind educators and students of the importance of teaching values within a crowded curricula. While I personally worry that “values” can sometimes be used as code for religious indoctrination, the truth is all institutions have values and they subject their employees, customers, and vendors to them. In the world of K12 schooling, we define our values via our mission and vision statements, often without consulting students. Schools then expect students to blindly follow those values without really teaching them what they mean, or how to follow them. Our principal dutifully reads a code of conduct to our students each day. It concludes with the phrase “and always keep your honor.” I have never heard him provide any examples of what that means or how to follow it in practice. On a daily basis, I see students copying homework, giving each other answers to tests, using their phones to look up answers instead of reading, not to mention outright plagiarism. These books aim to curtail this behavior by teaching students that their values are freely-chosen “qualities of action” that make life meaningful. The strategies demonstrated give teachers a menu of options when teaching students to explore the values that resonate with them and then act accordingly.
The first half of Empower Your Students is made up of activities that help students develop values- consistent behavior. These activities cover curiosity, motivation, purpose, participation, sharing, empathy, and resilience. I have found that most of these values can easily be aligned with the “CASEL Five” SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The second half of the book elaborates on strategies that empower students with dialogue, partnerships, collaboration, course content, inquiry, and addressing teacher values as well.
Two-For-One Teaching suggests methods for conducting values work in the classroom using tools from psychology that help students take action aligned to their personal values. It follows that students will be more engaged during activities that mean something to them and that more engagement will equate to more achievement. The rest of the book offers thirty protocols that help students prepare for learning, explore new material, review material, create work, refine work, and reflect on learning. This book fits nicely into the work of SEL educators or any teacher who wants to make their instruction more relevant to students.
These books clearly instruct educators on how to use and adapt their protocols to suit their own classroom culture. There are ample reproducibles in each book and on the publisher’s website. What I personally found most valuable were the “scripts” that demonstrate teacher conversations with students around issues that are important in my classroom like grading group projects. Being able to ask questions that help students notice their values-inconsistent behavior is hard work and requires a lot of practice. I like having lists of questions and sub-questions such as: What have you tried? How has it worked? And What has it cost? These help me practice this skill and solve problems with groups of students with differing work ethics — a big problem in gifted education. Many of my students struggle with social awareness and relationship skills.
While these books are excellent starting points, time is what is truly needed so that teachers reading them can work together to implement, assess, and debrief the use of this framework and protocols. Until schools and districts make time to connect instruction to student values and increase SEL training in all subjects, I worry that implementation will be inconsistent and results will be mixed. Eventually these worthy programs will be replaced by the next new edu-fad
I am often asked “With all of the content we are asked to teach, how do you have time to do all of this SEL work?” I take my answer from Jonathan Raymond‘s book Wildflowers where he states: “Reshaping public education is the opposite of impossible. It’s consistent with our history and character as Americans and a realistic and achievable goal.” Empower your Students and Two-For-One Teaching are books that help teachers do right by their students.