Beyond Buzzwords: Social Emotional Literacy is about Sharing Culture

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By Kevin E. Baird, Chairman at the Global Center for College & Career Readiness

(Mr. Baird serves as the Chief Academic Officer for ACHIEVE3000.)

The human ability to interact, share ideas respectfully, and honor difference is developed through the experience of doing those things. These are human behaviors which are learned, in part, through the sharing of cultures in the classroom.

During my 20+ years as an educator, a number of buzzwords and related fads have focused on students as good people, on their way to a productive and happy adulthood. “Values” or “Character-based” education. “Cultural Literacy” and “Cultural Fluency.” Leadership academies, and even our approach to Civics and Citizenship have often related to the ideas of being a good person, treating each other kindly, and participating in discourse that is both academic, argumentative, reflective and respectful.

Today, many schools are prioritizing “Social Emotional Literacy”. They bought the textbook, added activities to the scope and sequence, and provided training to teachers. Perhaps there is even a test! Voilà. Instant “Good Kids”.

I am perplexed at why we would try to develop an essential set of human characteristics which require interrelationship by using a text alone, or a test, or segmenting these behaviors as “standards,” a “unit” or “initiative.” These interactions are required in the “real world” and that is where they are best developed. Certainly reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking are involved. But interpersonal fluency is unlikely to develop without interpersonal interaction.

That’s the vision behind ACHIEVE3000’s Cool, Cool World experience.

Cool, Cool World embraces the celebration of difference to create experiences for sharing differences – different ideas, different heritage, different ways of seeing the world. Playful, safe, and inviting experiences which ask students and teachers to lean in and share the magic of different peoples, places and ways of living.

This summer I had the honor of listening to, learning from, and sharing in the experiences at the Crow Fair and Pow Wow held annually at Crow Agency, Montana. The week is one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans (also Indians, Indigenous Peoples, and Tribal Citizens, depending upon one’s preferred name). The event is hosted by the Crow Nation but there are families from dozens of communities, tribes and nations from around the world. Families have been coming to the same camp sites, putting up teepees, and dancing in traditional styles for more than a century. The same patch of land has served as camp site for some families since before the completion of the railroads across America.

One of the lessons I learned was that a Pow Wow is a coming together to share culture – “medicine” – arts, song, stories, craft, industry. And a Pow Wow is an opportunity to build relationships, develop trade and economy, and extend friendships and alliances. At these gatherings, the assembled peoples bestow good wishes on others who may be different, but who are no longer strangers. The gathering was the beginning of the New Year for many Crow families, and I was honored to be included in their conversations.

One recurring theme among my conversations is that we can look at the classroom differently. School is a place of coming together – a gathering to share with each other, to learn from each other, and to wish each other well. A place where we embrace and celebrate our differences and move from strangers to friends and partners. School can be a place where learning comes in many forms, and where embracing our past can help us make sense of our future.

The Achieve3000 team, including Actively Learn educators, work to bring the real world into the schoolhouse through exciting, inviting and interesting experiences. We are inviting the entire world—every student, educator, and community member—to join us in a Global Gathering this fall to share arts, music, dance, ideas and ways of living. Let’s have fun, celebrate the rich heritage of humanity, and build our understanding of each other and ourselves by interacting in real time, in this ever so cool, cool world!