February 8, 2019 Message to Members

SEL and Leadership

This is the second year that the BC Ministry of Education has produced the School Community Mental Health Conference (February 4 & 5 in Vancouver), and it was a timely opportunity for more than 500 participants from BC’s public, independent and First Nations schools to come together with law enforcement and health authorities for conversations and presentations about wellness in schools. The conference addressed mental health and addiction issues and strategies for children and youth, but also extended to wellness for educators and families and the importance of a community approach.

The positive energy in the room over those two days signals the momentum that we are experiencing. The Ministry and the BC government have recognized that we all – as a community – need to talk.

A consistent theme of the conference was the influence that leaders and their relationships have in the early and developing stages of support for at-risk children, youth and adults in our system. In last week’s column, I talked about my experience at the Compassionate Systems Framework in Schools workshop, and how MIT’s Peter Senges’ model is backed by years of scientific research on the impact of positive relationships in workplaces, including the daily interactions that we have with colleagues and our students.

Speaker Mark Greenberg highlighted the holistic need for social emotional learning (SEL) and the importance of connecting families and communities with schools and students. He emphasized the importance of educators investing time and resources in developing their own understanding of and skill with social emotional learning concepts. And he shared these words, that have resonated:

 “… I really don’t think of the role of a principal as being an instructional leader. I think it’s really misconstrued. I think the role of a principal is to be the SEL leader, the person who creates a healthy caring school where everyone feels connected and belongs.”

Mark Greenberg recognized that contemporary principals and vice principals can be overwhelmed by the day-to-day activities in their schools, and that they regularly express their desire to be instructional leaders. But his research and experience suggest that we could reconsider and look at our roles as the social emotional leaders for our schools.

It can seem like a shift of our lens, but I believe that it’s really part of who we are as leaders. As I reflect on my own years as an educator, I smile to recall my early days in the classroom or – more to the point – outside of the classroom. As a biology and science teacher, I spent time with students in the forest, by a stream, on the shore of the pond or just hunting for moss around a playground. I can now see the connectivity as we weave Indigenous ways of learning and thinking with social emotional learning and the objective of mental wellness for our students and colleagues. While I wasn’t familiar with the SEL constructs at the time, my goal in 

sharing outdoor learning activities with my students was grounded in creating an enhanced learning environment, and fostering positive attitudes towards education, discovery, our community and each other.

If you think about your role in your school, both the connections that you have built over time and those that are created every day, do you recognize your influence on the social and emotional climate of your school community? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and your stories.

Take Care,