Social and Emotional Learning – Relationships

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Texas Psychological Association’s annual convention, an event that I go to every year as part of my ongoing professional development.  There were a few sessions I checked out, but one in particular stood out as especially relevant:  Resilience Starts in Schools:  SEL for Healthy Relationships, which was conducted by Dr. Jeff Temple and Ms. Lauren Scott, both from UT-Medical Branch in Galveston.

My last post explained Social/Emotional Learning using the model developed by CASEL and presented its 5 core competencies.  Dr. Temple and Ms. Scott utilized this model throughout their presentation, but their presentation centered on a skills- and research-based SEL program called “Fourth R.”

Before we dive into Fourth R, I want to reiterate what SEL is.  The following comes directly from Dr. Temple and Ms. Scott’s presentation:

Social/Emotional Learning is how children and adults:

  • Understand and manage their emotions
  • Set and achieve positive goals
  • Feel and show empathy for others
  • Establish and maintain positive relationships
  • Make responsible decisions

With that in mind, let’s discuss the Fourth R program.

Fourth R

We all know what the three “R’s” in school are:  reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  And we know that even today they are still a priority in every good learning environment.  So what is the “Fourth R”?

The Fourth R is “relationship.”  And, according to the presenters, it is just as important to student success as the other three.

The Fourth R program operates under the assumption that most students (and teachers/administrators) do not think about or focus on their own feelings and emotions.  This lack of self-awareness (a CASEL competency) has a direct impact on students’ mental health.  This in turn can lead to dangerous behavior, such as teen dating violence, drug and alcohol use, sexting, and bullying.

In order to combat such behaviors, students must focus on improving their relationships with their peers in order to increase their mental health.  And this improvement starts with understanding their own individual emotions (i.e., self-awareness).  Seems simple, right?  Well, according to Dr. Temple, it is!

As long as teachers and administrators teach specific relationship-building skills rather than vague ideas on improving relationships, schools will see results.  The Fourth R program offers many practical skills that students must learn in order to develop healthy relationships, including:

  • Active listening
  • Reflective listening
  • Assertive communication
  • Delaying, refusing, or negotiating dangerous behavior
  • Support skills and help seeking
  • Apologizing (this is a big one!)
  • Ending a friendship or relationship

The Fourth R program, when implemented in schools, uses role playing and other creative activities to engage students and teach and reinforce these skills.  According to the presenters, the program often times replaces Health class, which can often be outdated and “preachy” to students.  The goal of SEL is to teach students how to deal with adversity, not avoid it, which is even more reason to make SEL both practical and fun.

The benefits of improved SEL and mental health are undeniable; they lead to increased self-efficacy, reduced risks of dangerous behavior, increased academic achievement, and reduced anxiety.  And, as I mentioned in my last post, these effects are typically life-long.  Whether or not you child’s school is implementing SEL programs such as Fourth R, you as a parent can still make an impact at home.  I encourage you to consider your own emotions and feelings and then have conversations with your child about these topics.