My 6 year old son left a message on our kitchen chalkboard, “Nurturing Healing Love” (phonetically spelled “Norurting Helinn Love”) shortly before he was murdered in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Nineteen of his first grade classmates also perished, in two classrooms, as well as 6 educators. It was one of the worst mass murders in US history.
When I saw Jesse’s message, I immediately understood that if the shooter, a former student (whose mother had taught at the school), had been able to give and receive, ‘nurturing healing love’, the tragedy would never have happened. Interestingly, we have to learn the skills, tools and attitudes that enable us to cultivate healthy relationships, meaningful connections, manage our emotions and be resilient. These are not innate within us. This is called Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). It is the future of education as well as the number one way to keep our kids safe.
Social and Emotional Learning is a Proactive Solution.
The recently released final report of the Federal Commission on School Safety recommends Social and Emotional Learning as a proactive and preventative approach to school violence. Traditionally, we focus on external safety measures such as active shooter protocol, single point entry, bullet proof film for windows, arming or not arming school resource officers, etc. but these do not address the cause of why a student would want to harm themselves and others.
Social and Emotional Learning cultivates safety from the inside out of every child by teaching them how to recognize their emotions, values, strengths and limitations; show understanding and empathy for others; form positive relationships; work in teams; deal effectively with conflict; make ethical and constructive choices about personal and social behaviors; and manage their emotions and behaviors to achieve their goals. It only makes sense that kids who have these essential life skills won’t want to harm themselves and others. There is research to to back this up!
Decades of research on Social and Emotional Learning also proves students that have access to SEL in their classrooms get better grades and test scores; higher attendance and graduation rates; less stress, anxiety and behavioral issues; and experience less bullying. Long-term studies that followed students into adulthood have shown less mental health issues, less substance abuse and less incarceration!
New Hampshire was the first state to release their statewide school safety initiative that focuses on Social and Emotional Learning. They are promoting the Choose Love Enrichment SEL Program throughout the state. The Director of Homeland Security in New Hampshire introduced the program to first responders as well. By the time first responders get involved, it might be too late and their lives could be on the line. It is better to proactively prevent tragedy than wait to address it after the fact.
Focus on the Good, not the bad.
Only when we address the cause of the issues, can we be offering a solution. Current programs and initiatives have made little headway because they focus on defining and highlighting the issue. The problem is, what we focus on grows, and this is what we’ve seen with substance abuse programming, suicide awareness and anti-bullying.
Social and Emotional Learning focuses on the solution by addressing the cause. We spend billions each year on statistically ineffective programs. What if we spent a fraction of that to proactively reduce and prevent the suffering before it starts. This can be achieved by teaching Social and Emotional Learning in our children’s classrooms.
Until we have the courage to work outside of our negative bias and choose to focus on proactive prevention, we are never going to get ahead of the issues that plague our children in school and continue into adulthood. What we’re doing isn’t working. What’s the definition of insanity? To quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
By now we realize there is no one ‘out there’ that is going to solve these issues. It is going to have to be each and every one of us, taking responsibility for what is going on in our schools and society, and becoming part of the solution. How do we do this? By making sure that our schools have a comprehensive Social and Emotional Learning program embraced as part of the culture of the school.
These essential life skills, taught at each grade level, are also the same skills that top employers value most in business! The advantage of Social and Emotional Learning impacts our entire life span, in all areas, including relationships, resiliency when facing challenges and managing our emotions. During a 75 longitudinal study, Harvard University found the key to happiness is positive relationships (Harvard Study of Adult Development). Social and Emotional Learning gives us the skills and tools necessary to have healthy, positive, fulfilling and meaningful relationships.
After Jesse’s murder, I learned that I had been responsible for my son’s safety when I sent him to school that fateful day. If I could have done anything differently, it would have been to make sure his elementary school had a comprehensive Social and Emotional Learning program that was embraced and taught in every classroom. Some educators are already doing this in their classrooms with tremendous success. SEL is a comprehensive, research-based and statistically effective way of bringing this learning into our schools that is scientifically proven to benefit our children physically, mentally and emotionally for the duration of their lives.
Jesse’s murder was 100% preventable. I decided to be part of the solution by creating a next generation Social and Emotional Learning program that includes the best of what is statistically effective. The Choose Love Enrichment Program infuses Character Education, Emotional Intelligence, Positive Psychology, and Mindfulness. This program covers all age levels, from Infant/Toddler through High School, as well as teaching adults through the Choose Love At Home and Choose Love Communities programs. Our program is now being taught in all 50 states and downloaded multiple times in over 65 countries. This has spread by word of mouth and is indicative of the need for this type of learning and our ‘Choose Love’ message.
Everyone is concerned with their children’s safety. The opposite of anxiety is action. We can all be a part of the solution by choosing love and making sure our schools have Social and Emotional Learning.
I hope you will join me in this critical and life-saving endeavor by choosing SEL and by Choosing Love.