-Leisl Algeo, Head: Future Nation Launchpad

Leisl is passionate about education. She founded Future Nation Launchpad with the vision of developing a series of schools across the country that allow children to learn a second language whilst being grounded in a development pathway that sets the stage for a lifelong love for learning.

With a Masters degree in poverty reduction and development management, Leisl ultimately wants to make Launchpad’s high quality of education available to all children in Southern Africa.

As parents, we are very aware that our kids aren’t always the most cooperative when it comes to doing the things we really want them to do. My five-year-old son, for example, isn’t always a willing participant when it’s time to go to bed (and that’s putting it mildly). It can make the bedtime routine rather challenging when he asserts his will and refuses to play the game, as you can imagine.

What we sometimes forget is that these exact scenarios of resistance often play out in the classroom environment. The difference here is that, if the teacher isn’t effectively able to get the child to the other side of this emotion, it can directly impact on their learning experience.

So it seems pretty logical that as educators, we should be thinking about how to teach children the social and emotional coping skills to get through these barriers to their learning. After all, our teaching is only as effective as a child’s ability to absorb the knowledge we’re transferring to them.

At Future Nation, we are actively thinking about how to include this “social-emotional” learning component in our curriculum and teacher development. To understand what this all means, we need to understand what social-emotional learning entails. Social-emotional development refers to a child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen and others 2005).

At its core, a social-emotional programme will teach children how to identify and manage their own feelings, how to read and understand someone else’s emotional state, how to deal with strong emotions in a positive way, how to regulate your own behaviour and, how to build and manage relationships with others.

So what does this look like in the class? I recently had the privilege of traveling to San Diego to see how an established Project Based Learning school works. As I was wandering the hallways of a primary school, I noticed two children getting into a fight in their line-up time – we’ll call them Tyler and Brad. 

Once they realised they were fighting (and without a word from the teacher), these two little seven-year old boys decided to walk over to what is known as the Peace Path. The Peace Path is a simple, written-out process that walks kids through how to resolve a conflict.

So this is how it played out. Tyler starts off with, “I feel mad when you exclude me from stuff with the other guys” (explaining why he’s upset). Brad then responds, “I understand that you feel mad when I exclude you” (reflecting Tyler’s feelings).

Back to Tyler: “I’d like to find a solution for this. Could you maybe make sure you ask me if I want to join if you start a game on the playground with the other guys next time?”

Brad replies: “Sure. I’ll try to do that. The problem is I sometimes forget so if you see me starting a game without you, you’re just going to get mad again.”

So Tyler says: “Yeah, I forget stuff too sometimes, so I understand that you can’t always remember. Would it be ok if I reminded you next time it happens? Then maybe you’ll forget less.”

Brad says, “Thanks Tyler. That would really help. So, are we cool now?”

Tyler ends with, “Yeah buddy. We’re definitely cool.”

Conflict resolved. Just like that. After I’d pulled my jaw off the floor at watching this remarkably mature reaction to a situation that could quickly have escalated, I went looking for the teacher to find out more. She told me that using the Peace Path is a habit that’s been instilled in these children since Grade R. They are taught that when they realise they’re in a conflict situation, they need to immediately make their way to the Peace Path and use the prompts to work through the issue.

Initially, the job is to teach the children about the Peace Path and to keep reminding them to use it. Later, she says, we start teaching them how to solve increasingly complex emotions using similar type of processes to work through the issues in a calm and collected manner. What I witnessed was the result of over 2 years of doing this day in and day out.

Imagine a world where people were mature enough to manage their emotions and conflicts in this way? Imagine how much happier and more engaged you’d be as a child if you could learn in such a positive setting?

Social emotional learning is a tool for life – from classroom to relationships to career, these skills are powerful and have the ability to turn education on its head if applied wisely and diligently.

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