By Kristina Hulvershorn
At a recent training, I was reminded why I have pushed so hard to bridge my two worlds of humane education and social emotional learning. In this school, situated in a neighborhood with one of Indianapolis’ highest crime rates, teachers received a complete Tribes training to prepare them to include social emotional learning (SEL) in their classrooms, and now, they are learning how to embed humane education, as well.
When addressing problem solving, a teacher remarked, “I never used to let them [the students] solve their own problems, and now I do. I let them figure it out, and surprisingly, they usually can.” This skepticism is very familiar to those learning SEL and humane education; which is why it is so gratifying to hear evidence that teachers are trying and succeeding in meeting not only the academic but also the social-emotional needs of their students. Why does this matter so much to someone trying to teach humane education? Imagine encouraging teachers to view their students from a new lens – a lens where each student is not only capable of understanding the world’s problems but also coming up with meaningful ways to address and even solve those problems. Now, imagine trying to convince a teacher of the power of humane education who doesn’t view their students as capable of working it out when there is a dispute over whose turn it is to be line leader or what to do about missing headphones. That is why, when I see teacher’s mindsets change, and they begin to see their students differently, it is such a victory, a victory not just for me but for the whole world. See, children of privilege are expected to be leaders and to somehow shape the world. What about the rest of the children? Children in “struggling” schools and “at-risk” neighborhoods. If we don’t begin to look at these children as wise changemakers, full of potential, they won’t look at themselves that way anytime soon either. The world needs the sensitive, wise, and worldly brilliance that comes from all youth…not just a privileged few. When equipping students to interact and coexist in healthy ways, we have given them the start they need, but when we take it a step further and bring humane education into our classrooms, suddenly students are immersed in culturally, socially relevant learning, where critical thinking, meaningful connections, and compassion are central educational components .
If it’s really this easy, then why don’t more teachers employ both SEL and humane education into their classrooms? I could probably identify about 100 barriers, but the mindset is the most critical. We must first consider our students as capable of solving problems, give them knowledge and tools, trust them to develop solutions in the safety of their classrooms, and then take action in the community at large. The world is depending on us to help students find the leader – the changemaker- in all of our students.