Dena Simmons: Without Context, Social-Emotional Learning Can Backfire []


A few years ago, I had the great fortune to meet Bronx native Dena Simmons on a fellowship trip and hear about her life’s work and experience. She’s an educator, a TED speaker, and currently, the assistant director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence—not to mention a keynote speaker at the EdSurge Fusion conference later this year.

What I didn’t realize at the time was just how much of a confluence there would be between her work and the current trendiness of one particular phrase: “social-emotional learning” (SEL)—something which Simmons has been exploring and researching for years.

As has happened with other buzzwords in the education space—from “personalized” to “project-based” learning—when a concept gains traction on Twitter or becomes trendy among edtech company offerings, it runs the risk of being mishandled or cheapened. Simmons is well aware of that reality, and has written and spoken about that risk for organizations from ASCD to large public school districts.

Namely, are we at risk of bastardizing SEL to the point where it becomes less helpful and more harmful for the students we seek to serve? How should educators work with kids to truly develop those soft skills—and escape the inevitability of impostor experiences?

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