-by Errol St.Clair Smith-
If you’ve read any of the articles in this month’s issue of FLR, and you’re wondering why we dedicated an entire issue to these stories, read on.
If you’re wondering what “SES” is and what it has to do with Flipped Learning or reaching every student, read on.
Finally, if you’re curious about the story behind these stories, well, read on.
We all have significant thoughts, feelings, and stories that we chose to keep private, yet under certain circumstances, we share them freely with complete strangers.
The stories in this issue are similar to those I heard while recording some 5,000 education interviews for a group of national education associations. For over 10 years, I’ve was a fly on the wall listening to what teachers, principals, superintendents, and policymakers were saying to each other and about each other. I was also privy to the private off-air discussions that were significantly more candid.
What emerged from my license to silently eavesdrop on thousands of educators, was a picture of passionate professionals, pouring their souls into the needs of students, while often neglecting or denying their own personal, mental, financial, and emotional needs.
One episode stands out as an iconic example. On this day the teacher-host was completing a radio interview about a particular challenge most educators face. He completed his upbeat and inspiring interview, signed off with his standard words of encouragement, and then collapsed into emotional despair as soon as we heard the last guest sign off. He was struggling with overwhelming pressures at school, financial stresses at home, and exhaustion. I wish I could say this example is quite rare, but it wasn’t. Over the course of a decade, these off-air discussions revealed a persistent thread of unmet social-emotional needs that are largely censored from public conversations.
Of course, educators have long talked about supporting the social and emotional needs of students. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), they are,
“the world’s leading organization advancing one of the most important fields in education in decades: the practice of promoting integrated academic, social, and emotional learning for all children in preschool through high school.”
CASEL offers the following definition of social-emotional learning:
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
But google “SEL” and the overwhelming search returns look at SEL exclusively through a student-centric lens. Perhaps a recent article in EdSurge sums up the state of affairs. Author Giancarlo Brotto wrote a compelling piece titled “The Future of Education Depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here’s Why.” Brotto makes a powerful case for supporting the social-emotional needs of students. His points are well supported by a recent study from CASEL that shows teachers’ over-the-top support of SEL for students. But nothing in the EdSurge article or the 57-page study, from the world’s leading organization on SEL, mentioned a word about the largely underserved social-emotional needs of educators.
There’s something deeply unsettling about doing any task while ignoring work that you know is more important. One quality most journalists and educators have in common is that we want to make a difference, not just go through the motions.
The offline discussions I heard daily were much more meaningful, substantive, and relevant than the sanitized radio interviews we were producing. Clearly, these off-air discussions could make a difference. But, what would it take to get these conversations out in the open? Who would be willing to flip the script and have the real discussion on-air instead of the before and after the interviews?
In 2013 we went looking for someone to host a show who would bring these topics to the surface but couldn’t find anyone who would stay on purpose. Every host would eventually track back to, “It’s all about the kiddos!”
Fast forward to Jon Harper, a veteran teacher turned assistant principal. For about a year and a half, we produced a show with Jon called My Bad: The show about how and what extraordinary educators learn from sharing their mistakes. Jon has a simple mantra, “we have to be vulnerable to grow.” Jon has become widely respected for being open about his own personal challenges, mistakes, and shortcomings. In the process, he’s made it safe for others to do so as well. Eventually, we realized that Jon was the right guy, with the right stuff, to host a show on the unspoken social-emotional needs of educators. Jon agreed.
We started working on the show format in December of 2017, clarified the difference between SEL and SES, and on January 22 launched Teachers’ Aid: Social and emotional support for the very personal challenges teachers face. The show resonated immediately.
Jon has quickly become the embodiment of SES as he’s evolved into a passionate, caring advocate and role model. His work along with his cohost Mandy Froehlich is opening new conversations about the hidden side effects of neglecting, ignoring or minimizing the social-emotional needs of educators. But what does this have to do with Flipped Learning and reaching every student?
Google the term “Maslow before Bloom’s,” and you’ll see that the notion is not new. What does it mean? Most people who cross-reference the two pyramids are making the point that if we fail to honor the basic levels of Maslow’s pyramid, climbing Bloom’s pyramid will be extremely difficult.
One of the ideas emerging from Jon and Mandy’s work is a greater awareness that the Maslow before Bloom’s principle extends to educators as well. There is growing recognition that educators who take good care of their social-emotional needs first are better equipped to help students learn. School leaders and school administrators who support their teachers’ social-emotional needs cultivate staff who are more prepared to help students climb Bloom’s pyramid.
The articles in this month’s issue echo and amplify the Maslow before Bloom’s principle with concrete examples and practical tips for meeting the social-emotional needs of educators.
Most striking about Jon and Mandy’s work is the simplicity of the principle they model. They are dangerously transparent and courageously vulnerable. They share thoughts and feelings on air that you will rarely hear in public education discussions. More importantly, they have created a climate and a venue where other educators feel comfortable openly sharing the personal struggles that many have long kept hidden. The result is the emergence of a growing new mindset.
The Oxford dictionary defines cathartic as:
Providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions; causing catharsis.
Jon, Mandy and the others who are openly discussing their social-emotional challenges and needs are engendering a new cathartic mindset, which is empowering educators around the world. Jon Harper has started sharing the Maslow before Bloom’s message at regional and national education conferences and will be taking his message internationally with a keynote at RESCON Australia.
Jon, Mandy and the contributors to FLR this month are proving that there is something cathartic and empowering in publicly expressing our challenges and needs. They are proving to school leaders that social-emotional support for educators matters. Most importantly, they are making the point that for Flipped Learning to reach every student, we first need to reach every teacher.