SEL Learning in Trinidad and Tabego
Author Marilyn Robb
Many Caribbean education systems are undergoing reform. Like other parts of the world, these countries seek solutions to school problems such as rising violence , decreasing motivation of students, delinquency, teacher burn-out. Despite the efforts of curriculum changes and pedagogical strategies, the problems in Caribbean education persist.
I firmly believe that these reform efforts are not effective partly because they do not take into account the social emotional learning dimensions of educational change, i.e. the connection between feelings and learning.
Classrooms must provide the emotional safety and sense of caring and nurturing. Children need to know that the school is a place where they will be supported not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.
For many years my mission has been to introduce Social and Emotional Learning as a central aspect of the curriculum in all Caribbean education schools and especially here in Trinidad and Tobago. After many efforts I was finally granted the opportunity to see this come alive in one primary school.
I have been very pleased with the success especially the facts that the entire school got involved and that they persisted with the program for the past two years, and are willing to continue. Also very heartening was the fact that the parents jumped on board.
The aim of this school is to make education more about overall child development and enjoying learning and less about only the academics. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) therefore was seen as the concept and practice that would address the school’s aim most effectively.
The project was phased into the school through work with teachers, students and parents.
A group of approximately 13 teachers agreed to meet as a support group twice a month for four months. The objectives for this group were to develop good listening skills, understand the importance of emotional well-being in teaching and learning, and to build trust amongst each other.
Once this group of teachers appreciated and internalized the importance of Social and Emotional Learning, the Whole School Project started.
This started with a 2-day workshop with the entire staff and a few invited parents, so that everyone could understand the effects of emotions on teaching and learning, the factors affecting the social and emotional climate in the classroom, and to develop a program of social emotional learning and developing emotional intelligence relevant to their needs and context.
The program continues with a planning session at the beginning of each term and a feedback session at the end of the term, with continuing support from me on an on-going basis.
Parents workshops were conducted on Saturdays. These workshops helped the parents to develop their own social and emotional competence, ensure that they have enough knowledge of these skills and can themselves practice them in order to model them and teach them to their children.
A group of teacher-leaders was chosen to ensure that the program is an integral and on-going aspect of the school’s culture, lead planning sessions at the beginning of each term and evaluation sessions at the end of each term and provide support to teachers during the term.
An interview was held with some of the teachers to gather feedback about the effects of the program in the school. At the start of the program teachers admitted that they knew very little about Social and Emotional Learning.
They learned to use the supportive listening skills to maintain their own emotional well-being and build support amongst themselves. They too indicated improvements in their relationships and interacting with others outside of the school setting.
Some of the more direct effect included greater trust amongst them and greater attention paid to each other. Also, since they are making greater efforts to understand the children there is less labeling of the students.
They indicated that the students were responding positively and eagerly to the lessons. The students were developing good listening skills and were responding in more appropriate ways to situations in the classroom.
Teachers also reported greater self-confidence and tolerance amongst the students. The students interrupted mis-treatment of each other more frequently. Happier faces was the reply of some teachers. Some students also reported improved relationships with their siblings at home.
Some of the pressure was lifted from the teachers to listen constantly to students, to address their emotional needs and to deal with behavior issues. Education in the Caribbean is surely on the cusp of great change!
This program adds to the research showing the importance of teaching SEL skills in the classroom. However maintaining emotional well-being and addressing the emotional needs of young children on a daily basis requires effective and constant use of strategies.
I WILL fulfill my goal of incorporating social emotional learning into all schools in the Caribbean even if I do it one school at a time. Education in the Caribbean is my purpose and I will work to help schools improve.
About the Author
Marilyn’s passion for SEL started more than 26 years ago when her son started school. With an M.Ed. from Towson State University, Maryland, USA, a Ph.D. in Education from the University of the West Indies and a Diploma in Family Counseling she founded A Joyful Place to fill some of the needs of parents, teachers and students that were not being met in the schools. See Marilyn's Website here.