‘Change in culture’: New California guidelines aim to help teach social, emotional skills

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The nation’s schools long ago broadened their missions beyond the teaching of academic subjects and participation in extracurricular activities. Educators have for decades been entrusted to teach students a wider range of life skills, including those that touch on emotions, empathy and relationships with other people.

Now, a new state guide, released Wednesday, offers a slew of resources for teachers and administrators seeking to bolster kids’ social and emotional development.

“Science confirms that learning is not only cognitive, but also social and emotional. These resources help students develop the skills they need to function well in the classroom, the community, in college and their careers,” said state Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

The push toward including socio-emotional curriculum in schools has rippled across the state and in Sonoma County in recent years. Local school officials say it takes time to fully implement social and emotional learning because it requires a cultural shift.

The 72-page report from state Department of Education outlines toolkits for parents, online curriculum, trauma training for educators and restorative practices similar to the restorative justice programs implemented in Sonoma County’s larger school districts.

“It’s a change in culture in the classroom, that I respect you and you respect me because we’re here as human beings and I care about you and your education,” Hector Soto, assistant principal at Lawrence Cook Middle School, said in a recent interview.

The report also includes online links to Edutopia, an education nonprofit founded in 1991 by famed Star Wars film director George Lucas. Educators can watch online videos with tips for how to teach students to deal with stress, how to disagree productively, how to teach empathy through journaling, how to teach students to temper their emotions, the pros and cons of mindfulness, and more.

“A lot of what we do now focuses on methodology. We’re trying to introduce people to social and emotional learning, to multidisciplinary studies, to project-based learning,” Lucas said in a promotional video.

The Heart-Mind Online, a website developed by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, is also listed as a resource. It provides activity ideas and curriculum for K-12 students to focus on emotional well-being. Resources are searchable by anger, anxiety, conflict resolutions, confidence, empathy, friendship, kindness, play, resilience, self-regulation and stress.

The guide also points out socio-emotional programs at major districts in the state, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Oakland Unified.

While there’s no specific mention of wildfire trauma in the guide, resources exist for trauma training, including a 43-minute video from Communities In Schools, a Central Texas organization.

The new guide was compiled in collaboration with school officials from Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, and Tennessee, according to a release.

“This new guide offers a toolkit of resources that will assist California educators in serving the social and emotional needs of the whole child,” Torlakson said.

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