Why is Social and Emotional Learning critical?

by Joseph Cohen, President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation

It is paradoxical that the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut would result in the creation of a simple yet profound formula for choosing love.

This program, an evidence based Social and Emotional Learning curriculum, seems to be a sustainable educational solution that may help eliminate school shootings and bullying while improving the self-esteem of students from kindergarten through grade twelve.

The Choose Love Enrichment Program emphasizes the simple, universal teachings of courage, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion in action. It was developed by Jessie Lewis Choose Love Foundation, an organization founded by Scarlett Lewis who lost her six year-old son, Jessie, in the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Research shows that children who feel connected, who are resilient, and who can reciprocate love won’t want to harm each other. “We can teach children to choose love,” says Scartlett Lewis. “Love is a universal need, the lack of which can be devastating. That’s why I started the Choose Love Movement.”

The Choose Love Formula teaches the foundational concepts and skills of social and emotional learning (SEL), which has been substantiated by thirty years of research, and is informed by current brain research and neuroscience. The goal of the Choose Love Enrichment Program is to provide children with the knowledge, attitude, and skills they need to choose love in any situation.

An Evidence Based Sustainable Solution

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (“CASEL: What is SEL,” 2016), “social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” SEL has been proven to increase grades, attendance, and focus, while reducing aggression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other issues.

Fortunately, students aren’t the only ones who benefit from SEL. According to CASEL, schools are challenged by teacher attrition and unsafe learning environments. When educators teach SEL, they help students create safe, loving, and healthy problem-solving communities that enhance teachers’
ability to teach as well as students’ ability to learn.

Although the Jessie Lewis Choose Love Movement began in 2017, The Choose Love Enrichment Program™ has recently been included in the first state-wide school safety plan and will be provided to schools across New Hampshire. After collaborating with Scarlett Lewis, Chief Movement Officer of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has made Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) a priority in the New Hampshire School Safety Preparedness Task Force 2018 Report.

In addition, The University of Texas at Tyler will be implementing the Choose Love Enrichment Program in selected area school districts. UT Tyler will be partnering with the school districts and conducting research on measuring the academic, social and behavioral impact of the curriculum on students.

Why It Works

The lessons in the Choose Love Enrichment Program were written for educators, by educators, and are research-based. The content of the lessons is based on research on emotional intelligence, resilience, post-traumatic growth, neuroscience, mindfulness/focused attention, positive psychology and SEL. Special attention is paid to how our physical bodies (nerves, muscles, etc.), minds (the triune brain), and hearts (emotions) work in collaboration to promote health, learning, connection, and life success. The whole child—mind, heart, and body—is supported through these lessons.

There are four units including courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion. In the four units there are five competencies taught.

  1. Self-Awareness: recognizing one’s emotions and values as well as one’s strengths and limitations
  2. Self-Management: managing emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goals
  3. Social Awareness: showing understanding and empathy for others
  4. Relationship Skills: forming positive relationships, working in teams dealing effectively with conflict;
  5. Responsible Decision Making: making ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behavior.

The Choose Love Enrichment Program curriculum has the key components to promote resiliency and well-being among all children, especially those exposed to adversities, according to Shanta R. Dube, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, Georgia State University.

“We know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) contribute to emotional difficulties and multiple risk behaviors in adulthood,” says Dube, who is recognized both nationally and internationally for her research on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study which focused on early life stress and substance use and abuse, and mental illness in adulthood. “Providing life skills early in the lifespan that focus on self-awareness, emotional self-management, positive social connection, and most importantly self-love can build the “muscles” needed for managing negative emotions so they are free to learn.”  Dube emphasizes the need for rigorous evaluation to test the impact on children’s well-being. 

“My first impression of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement was that it addresses a huge gap and a critical missing piece in the mental health field and education,” says Linda Olson, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and founder of Georgia Childhood Domestic Violence Association. “Scarlett Lewis is a pioneer who has been able to use her own tragedy to help others focus on the key areas of resiliency.”

Dr. Olson also credits Lewis with thinking non-dualistically by seeing both sides and understanding that the perpetrator was also a victim and was in tremendous pain. “Jessie Lewis Choose Love Movement is a testament to her compassion and ability to forgive which highlights her emotional intelligence in the face of deep despair and unprecedented tragedy.”

Joseph Cohen is a former New York city public school teacher and journalist who recently published Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey.

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