By Kristina Hulvershorn
Years ago, I developed a critique of the field of SEL (Social and Emotional Learning). I believed that we were selling youth potential short when we limited children’s exposure to the kinds of problems in their immediate communities. Most SEL involved helping teachers control behavior, rather than unleashing powerful problem-solving kids’ potential.
Of course, I believe that it’s crucial for kids to learn how to address conflict and be responsible decision-makers, but we shouldn’t limit the context of these social skills to their relationships and their classrooms. What about the broader community? What about other species? What about communities that they may never interact with directly? What about the planet at large?
Eventually, I realized that SEL wasn’t the problem…it was that humane education wasn’t explicitly part of most SEL initiatives. This could be addressed by increasing access to high-quality curricula, training, and materials that infuse humane education topics into SEL. It was a real “I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that…then I realized I am somebody”* moment for me. I had a good enough understanding of both fields to bring them together, so I realized that I was a somebody who could make it happen.
About a year ago, HEART, Tribes (a world-renowned, pioneering SEL organization), and Peace Learning Center (an organization specializing in peace, justice, equity, and restorative practices) convened with the goal of determining how we could do even more good by working collectively. We didn’t have a specific goal in mind at the time, but we knew that there was an undeniable synergy and power when three groups with three different specialties came together for the right reasons.
We ultimately decided to call our group the Transformative Learning Alliance. Our first project would be to provide a simple and easy-to-use tool that combined the best of all three organizations. We are in the final phases of the creation of this tool, called Everyday Circle Cards.
Everyday Circle Cards are intended to be the way to build inclusion, foster healthy communities, help children learn and practice SEL skills, use powerful restorative justice techniques, AND understand and learn ways to act on the most important issue facing their generation. The cards are aligned with several sets of standards, including Common Core and CASEL’s SEL Competencies. We are so proud of this project and can’t wait to share it. The cards will be released later this year. Stay tuned to learn how you can get a set for your own class or afterschool group!
*quote attributed to Lily Tomlin.