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Oakes's Corner

Social and Emotional Learning Takes Center Stage

David Vaughn, Chairman, The Tremont School

There has been a flurry of media attention recently on the social and emotional lives or our school-age children. It seems that you can’t turn on a TV, or open a newspaper, (or turn on a newspaper for all you Kindle lovers) without reading about the fallout from our overstressed and overworked kids.

Movies like the recently released “Waiting For Superman” and the independent hit “Race to Nowhere” are highlighting the academic and emotional pressures our kids are buckling under as a result of the pressure to get into a “good” college and as a side effect of our well-meaning effort to boost standards and performance in our public schools.

And the social lives of children are no less under the microscope. A rash of horrifying reports about bullying, teasing, and retaliation have helped to paint a bleak picture about the social minefield that our schools can be, while prompting elected officials from dozens of states to pass anti-bullying legislation and other forms of protection for our most vulnerable students.

Fortunately, a recently released study is bringing some much-needed light and optimism to this dreary picture. According to a landmark study released last week in the journal Child Development, it is possible to teach to our kids’ social, emotional, and academic intelligence and help them to develop the sense of empathy, integrity, and resilience necessary to navigate the reality of their everyday lives.

For years we have debated the educational efficacy of social and emotional learning. It has become the ultimate in either/or propositions—you can have a rigorous classroom, according to conventional wisdom, or you can have a warm, nurturing, environment but you can’t have both. What this new study demonstrates for the first time is that children who are provided with an opportunity to learn discreet skills in social emotional instruction can actually improve on their academic success in dramatic fashion. In fact, according to the study, students who took part in SEL learning improved in grades and standardized test scores by 11 percentage points compared to their non-participating peers.

And just as significantly, these same kids demonstrated drastic improvement in a range of non-academic skills as well, from a reduction in bullying and suspensions to an increase in emotional well-being and overall attitude toward school.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that the most effective SEL programs were teacher-based as opposed to program based; simple and grounded in the students’ everyday experience as opposed to complex and comprehensive school-wide initiatives.

The paradigm shift that this study represents is potentially enormous. Although more research needs to be done, this study suggests that programs which focus on the outcomes of social illiteracy—like bullying and truancy—need to be re-thought to include more classroom-based efforts to develop the front-end social skills and emotional capacity in their students, hopefully negating the need for the end-point prevention programs in the first place.

Social and Emotional Learning is obviously not a new concept, but it is gaining credence and respect as an essential component of a school’s curriculum and culture. For more information, I encourage you to visit the Coalition for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) at

School of the Month

The Tremont School-


The Tremont School is a new coeducational day school in Metrowest Boston with a unique mission: to provide an experiential education that focuses on a child’s academic, social, and emotional development in a deliberately diverse and inclusive environment. The school will open in September of 2011 for grades 5 and 6, adding a grade each year until reaching full enrollment for grades 5-12.

The Tremont School was founded by a group of parents and educators who were interested in starting a school that combined the best of what both public and private schools had to offer— the vibrancy and variety of a public school community with the care, attention, and individualized approach to learning that are the hallmarks of an independent school education.

As such, the school has been designed to meet the needs of a variety of students and families who have been unable to find a home in their local public schools or the more traditional private schools in the area.

The Tremont school has developed a unique experiential learning environment to support its mission. At the heart of the school is a multi-disciplinary project-based model we have developed called The Living Curriculum. The Living Curriculum takes a highly personalized approach to education that focuses on our students’ strengths, interests, and individual learning styles. The primary goal of the curriculum is to promote the intrinsic understanding of the material through a guided discovery process that is interdisciplinary in nature and hands-on in approach.

For more information, please visit our website at or call us at 508-808-0280