Getting Smart Podcast | Opt for Dignity: Teach Children to Value Themselves and Others

Tim Shriver has traveled a very interesting pathway through education to his current position as chair of the Special Olympics. He spent 15 years in public education as a teacher, and he helped establish the Social Development project. He also helped create and currently chairs the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, better known as CASEL.

He shared more about his interesting life and the importance of social and emotional learning for our podcast:

Podcast Highlights

Tim Shriver grew up working with his mom in support of kids with special needs. While earning his undergraduate degree from Yale University, Tim did his student teaching in local New Haven schools and was hooked. He served as a counselor and teacher in the University of Connecticut branch of the Upward Bound program for disadvantaged youth.

Shriver earned a doctorate in education from the University of Connecticut with a focus on special education. He also became a Fellow at the epicenter of child psychology, the School Development Program at the Yale Child Study Center, where James Comer’s influence was pivotal, both for Shriver and the field.

Before Comer, most schools of education didn’t teach child development and didn’t view schools as the center of development. Combined with his teaching and volunteering, Comer helped Shriver develop his “lense of a developmentalist,” where he sees assets more than deficits.

The standards movement of the last two decades focused on results–not a bad thing, according to Shriver, but focused narrowly on literacy and numeracy and forgot how learning happens is nested with relationships and inspiration.

With an extraordinary group of scholars and practitioners in 1994, Shriver was a co-founder and board chair of The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

Shriver was interested in social learning. Dan Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, argued for emotional learning. They settled on social and emotional learning (SEL).

From what started as a small band of committed folks, SEL is now front and center in American education. “The good news is that it’s not a fad,” said Shriver. “The bad news is that there is not a supply of high-quality evidence-based training, curriculum or assessment tools.”

Shriver is gratified that the overwhelming majority of employers, teachers and parents support social and emotional learning.

Last year CASEL and Aspen Institute launched the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Shriver serves as one of 25 distinguished commissioners. Key takeaways from the June meeting included:

  • A common language, a clear conceptualization and shared understanding are critical in order to integrate SEAD at the school and classroom levels.
  • Integrating SEAD and explicitly teaching SEL is not an either/or; both are necessary for full-scale implementation.
  • The policy framework needs to be sensitive to local context and translated readily to corresponding practices.
  • Deliberate sequencing and scaffolding of SEAD integration can create the right climate and conditions gradually over time.
  • Teachers are central to the full integration of SEAD, and the social-emotional competency of adults is a prerequisite for doing this work well.
  • The full integration of SEAD is a significant undertaking for districts and schools, which are faced with multiple demands and limited resources.

Shriver predicts that the commission will yield common language and some clarity on practices, assessment, and policy frameworks. He also thinks it will influence teacher preparation when hundreds of national learners are “singing with the same voice.”

Launching a Dignity Revolution

Shriver dreams of a dignity revolution where “every human being sees beauty in every other person, where hearts are open to the dignity of others.”

He hopes that events like Global Dignity Day (October 18) and support of SEL helps shift the language we use to talk about kids to be more positive about their development, competence, skill and giftedness, and that we quickly come to the place where we see differently–where we see everyone has gifts as well as competence.

“Every problem in schools is an adult problem,” said Shriver. “If we thought of ourselves as the folks who need to see differently, I think we would see in our kids a lot more possibilities than we do today, and as a result they too would see that in themselves.”

Dignity is the link between SEL and Special Olympics. They both recognize that everyone has value. They teach compassion and grit.

Unfortunately, said Shriver, this will be remembered as the summit of Charlottesville. But if we opt for dignity and inspiration and teach children to value themselves and others we can create a more welcoming and just country.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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