The State of Education in Georgia is all about SEL – social and emotional learning. That was the theme for the 12th annual education conference Friday, Sept. 13.

The conference is sponsored by the University of Georgia College of Education. Dean Denise Spangler wrote in her message, “It is increasingly evident that every adult who interacts with students needs to be versed in social and emotional learning.”

She said the college tries to select a topic that is relevant to the field.

The day-long session was organized around the SEL theme and each session focused on the topic. Several speakers and panels dealt with different aspects of SEL.

Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, the keynote speaker from the University of British Columbia, introduced her talk with this quote: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” That was said by Aristotle, she told the audience.

Schonert-Reichl emphasized research over the past couple of decades and said SEL has demonstrated results over a lengthy period of time. She mentioned CASEL – the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning – and called it the “mother ship” of SEL.

She also mentioned a co-founder of CASEL, Daniel Goleman, who wrote “Emotional Intelligence.”

Social and emotional learning have gotten more attention lately as school districts grapple with students in multiple situations and who struggle to learn.

All but one of the Commerce Board of Education members attended the seminar, with superintendent Joy Tolbert. Ken Greene, assistant superintendent with the Barrow County schools, and April Howard, superintendent for Jackson County schools, also attended the seminar.

Schonert-Reichl said more elementary age students are experiencing stress in their daily lives, She referred to high-level stress as toxic stress for students.

She said people did not know the benefits of physical fitness 50 years ago, and it is the same now for social and emotional learning.

She cited multiple studies that provide evidence for the benefits of SEL. One study took a group of students who volunteered for 1 ½ hours for 10 weeks and had a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.

It is not survival of the fittest, she said, it is survival of the kindest, quoting Dacher Keltner, who is noted as the host of the podcast, “The Science of Happiness.”

The Kindness Foundation promotes the Kindness Counts @ School program.

Schonert-Reichl said another study demonstrates that a smile and greeting from a teacher at the beginning of a day carries over to the students’ learning.

“Kindness is cool” is a sign near the front of Commerce High School.

Kellie Brownlow, executive director for Boys and Girls Club of Georgia, was a member of the panel, “Whole Village: Community and Family Services Support in Social Emotional Learning in Schools.”

She said the SEL programs have been “brought to the forefront in the last several years.”

Deborah Baker Cwalina, executive director for Be THE Voice, a creation of a group of Rotarians and her, said, “Five years ago, I didn’t even know what that (SEL) meant.”

Be The Voice programs seek to emphasize kindness, compassion and inclusion.

Panelists emphasized the need to teach about technology.

Brownlow said youngsters today have more coming at them than when she was younger. The technology is 24 hours a day now, she said, and the students have to be taught that.

Cwalina said her program tells youngsters to “look up and look out” and get away from staring at cell phones for a bit.

Carol Lewis, the president and CEO for Communities in School of Georgia, said, “If you love the kid enough and care about (him or her) enough, (the youngster) will stay in school.”


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