Reviewed by Holly Reynolds
Thomas R. Hoerr’s Taking Social Emotional Learning Schoolwide delves into the various key factors that can either create or inhibit a culture of social emotional learning within the school environment.
Some of these factors include a school’s culture, narrative, and practices. The book provides educators with insightful opportunities to assess the degree of social emotional learning present at their own school.
While there are many different definitions of social emotional learning (SEL), the book describes SEL as “a framework that focuses on the core social and emotional skills necessary for students of all ages to be healthy and successful” (p. 12).
Along with this, the book mentions the components of SEL known as the “Formative Five Success Skills” which include self-control, integrity, empathy, embracing diversity, and grit. These are often introduced into school mission statements, school-wide assemblies, and classroom curriculum in order to surround students with reminders of SEL skills.
Originally, I thought that this book would take an in-depth look at each of the formative five success skills, but instead they were briefly intertwined within each chapter. From my perspective as a student teacher and my desire to practically apply these success skills, I would have appreciated it if these skills were further developed and described individually.
The book is divided into ten chapters, with most of them focusing on a different component and area where SEL can be found within the school setting. Examples include practices, people, narrative, and place. Along with this, there are five surveys found at the beginning of five chapters. The intent of these surveys is for staff to score their school based on the level of implementation of SEL within a provided category such as “school practices.”
A helpful resource for administrators
Hoerr’s decision to take the evaluative perspective of one’s own school environment led to less practical focus for teachers who need to utilize SEL during daily instruction. The book became more of an administrator’s guide for analyzing one’s school and how the school itself could be altered to include more empathic skills.
As an aspiring teacher in a California teacher education program, I felt a bit removed from the book’s content, which aims at addressing the needs of administrators who want to evaluate the SEL essence of their school.
For example, I could see my current (principal reading this book and as a result making changes to staff meetings, hallway content, and the mission statement in order to sharpen our school’s focus on SEL. The author himself was a principal for many years and is now an Emeritus Head of School, so it is only natural that the book was written from that angle.
For administrators looking for ideas to evaluate the level of SEL within their school, Hoerr’s book would be quite helpful as it analyzes each key component of a school to determine if the formative five success skills are present within the school’s culture.
A SEL overview useful to teachers
That said, as a current pre-service teacher working inside a school, this book has provided me an overview of a quality SEL program and will help me evaluate future job opportunities and the degree to which potential schools focus on SEL and the five formative success skills. This new perspective is valuable and made my reading of the book worthwhile despite the book being more oriented towards administrators.
I have personally witnessed the positive impact that SEL can have on elementary students as they learn about new ways to cope with daily stressors as well as how to better engage with their peers. I look forward to doing more research on SEL as I believe it a necessary component for student achievement academically and within all other areas of their life – one that is often overlooked in current education circles.
Holly Reynolds is a senior in Pepperdine University’s teacher education program. She is in the process of finishing her student teaching in a fourth-grade classroom and aspires to begin a teaching job this coming fall. Her passions within education include instructional design, social emotional learning, and literacy development.
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