By Kathleen Carroll, EdSurge, August 26, 2019
At Harvest Collegiate High School in Manhattan, students know what to do when they face a mysterious math problem. Take a breath, recognize a “maze moment,” and retrace their steps to find an alternative to their temporary dead end.
It’s a simple idea: learning as navigation, choosing among concepts and strategies that either pave a path forward or trap you in the puzzle at hand. But these “maze moments” at Harvest, along with a half-dozen other schools in New York City that have adopted the theme, give teenagers a new way to understand and articulate their roles as not-yet-perfect masters in school and in life. Instead of a frustrated “I don’t get it,” students can visualize their position in the maze: what they’ve learned so far, what they don’t yet know, and how they might persist past this current challenge to chart a different path and solve the problem.
This is the language of social-emotional learning, a holistic understanding of the richly human context in which students develop and grow. Social-emotional learning, or SEL, encompasses the broad spectrum of skills, attitudes and values that promote success in school and in life, things like managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, persevering through adversity and working in a team. It explicitly acknowledges the importance of mindset and the fundamentally interpersonal project of education, in which knowledge is developed through a series of trusting relationships between teachers, students and peers. And it can be a critical set of strategies to advance educational equity, by supporting the development of all students, including those who have learning differences, are growing up in poverty or are otherwise affected by adversity.