Those of us in the social work profession have spent at least 4 years at university studying the intricacies of human behaviours, and thousands of hours analysing a myriad of models and theories that claim to provide the “solution” to people problems. Every model taught has undergone rigorous testing by suitably qualified professionals in order to prove validity, and to claim its stake in the world of “best practice” or “evidence based practice”.
We exit university feeling well equipped with an abundance of knowledge and an ability to adapt what we have learnt to any given client situation. Ethically, we’re bound to continue our professional development and keep ourselves up to date on the latest findings that add to, question or replace the strategies we were taught, and have started to use with our client groups.
Heading into the “real world”, we soon realize that the organisation (or its funding body) will regulate which models we will use with our particular client group. This may feel “prescriptive” for a while, but soon we’ll either be convinced, or told, that this is the latest and most effective evidence based method of intervention for your particular client group. We may sprinkle in a portion of our own personality, and if particularly brave, insert a couple of our own ideas throughout the intervention process. How and when this sort of “insertion of the worker’s own interpretation” occurs does not appear to be of much (if any) concern in overall evaluations.
The assertive among us may even go so far as to suggest CHANGE to some of the old “tried and true” strategies. But we’ll soon realize that we need a team of researchers and multitudes of clients willing to be guinea pigs, to provide that much-needed “evidence”. Time consuming. Probably cost prohibitive. We’re probably already overworked and underpaid. Perhaps it’s best to just stick to the existing prescription. After all, the “experts” have stated that all the research points to evidence that this works. Furthermore, organisational managers who have a management perspective (as opposed to a client perspective) start to adapt these models as “evidence” to show they are following procedures which have a “proven” methodology. Models have measurements to gauge outcomes, and outcomes justify organisational spending.
Here comes the irony. Interestingly, we encourage our clients to embrace change. As social workers, we are often called “change agents”. How then, can we justify a profession that is becoming “prescriptive” by the very nature of insistence on “evidence based practice”?
Now before I am bombarded by those proponents of evidence based practice who only read part way through a document – I urge you to read on.
By no means am I inferring we do away with tried and tested models of intervention. Nor would the removal of “evidence” of effective practice achieve anything bar chaos. What I am suggesting is that “prescription intervention” has an inherent risk of the helping professional becoming complacent in his/her practice. Take that complacency to its limits and we may well end up with workers who place expectations on client responses. After all, if there is a generic “correct” model of intervention, then there must a generic “correct” client response. Yet nothing could be further from the truth – we all know that client responses are as diverse as client circumstances.
So wherein lies the balance? The balance lies in perspective. It’s about how we view a particular model. The key is this – models are not meant to be prescriptive, they are a guide. We value individual differences, so leave room in your practice to adapt, to be innovative, to be flexible according to your particular client needs and circumstances. Look beyond the prescription. Best practice is about best outcomes for clients.
Most of all, focus less on the need to be rigidly mindful on a model and start to use creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation and adaptability to ensure that any model of intervention remains relevant to client needs. And if you think perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of complacency, consider the need for some time out to regain that sense of wonder, intrigue and sense of justice you once had in your early practice years. Why? It is important for social workers to retain the ability to function effectively as a “change agent”.
Let’s just look at those words again – creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation, adaptability. A little outside your comfort zone? Not quite sure where these things fit into social work? Let me remind you of Einstein’s quote “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If you are not creative, flexible, innovative, authentic and adaptable in your own practice, then how can you empower your clients to make change? If you adopt one particular “modus operandi” in your practice, relying solely on what has been presented to you as “evidence based practice”, then where will new ideas come from? If you view one particular model as the generic answer to your client group’s issues, how will innovative new practices ever evolve?
It isn’t simply a case of sitting in the status quo of a current model and insisting on its merits because it has “proven results”, or because the company that pays your salary insists that you utilize a particular method. If you see a need for change, then speak out. Act on it. Find others in the helping professions and discuss their experiences. After all, isn’t that what we encourage our clients to do?
Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level: Part III
As discussed in parts one and two, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. By the time students reach middle school, the basic foundational skills for social-emotional intelligence are in place. Preteens and teenagers are now ready to face greater obstacles and challenges, especially with regard to peer relationships, stress, and self-motivation. To meet new benchmarks, students in middle and high school must learn to deal with more significant academic struggles, greater peer influences, ever-changing teenage social dynamics, and their own personal growth and development at the same time. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards for middle schoolers and high schoolers.
Students should begin to recognize circumstances and situations that cause extra or unnecessary stress; they should begin to adopt strategies to help with motivation, stress management, and task completion. Middle schoolers should begin to recognize the benefits of strong self-advocacy skills and how to best utilize the resources and supports that are at their disposal. For instance, if schools offer after–school homework help, students who know that they struggle to complete assignments on their own should take initiative by signing up for the club/program and making a point to attend.
Since learning to set goals in elementary school, middle schoolers should now be equipped to assess the validity of their goals so that they may make more informed, realistic, and specific goals moving forward. They should also be able to determine why they were able to reach success or not, i.e., What helped them to reach their goal? If they didn’t reach it, then why not? What prohibited them from finding success? By middle school, students should not only be able to recognize other people’s emotions, feelings, or perspectives, but they should be able to surmise why they feel or think that way. In this sense, they’re activating the ability to take another’s perspective that they learned in elementary school, then further expanding on that by making inferences.
Preteens not only recognize cultural differences, but they should begin to acknowledge how certain cultural differences can result in some peers being ostracized or bullied. They should then be able to begin to find ways to combat or address the bullying and/or to make others feel included and recognized. Middle schoolers should be well-aware of group dynamics and what it takes to ensure the success of the group. This includes assigning roles, taking responsibility, sharing the workload, cooperating with others, etc.
Students in the middle school grades should be aware of negative peer pressure, what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. They should also be able to come up with ways to combat negative peer pressure in non– confrontational ways and under various circumstances. Preteens should be considering their decision-making in terms of others. Before making an important decision, they should consider not only how they will benefit from their choice, but how it could impact others as well.
High schoolers should begin to understand how expressing one’s own emotions/feelings can have both positive and negative impacts on others. For example, as young adults, they need to know that positivity begets positivity, especially when emotions are running high. High schoolers will also have developed the ability to multitask by this point. However, more than multitasking, HS students should be able to shift back and forth between various tasks and under wavering conditions or circumstances. For instance, if completing a chapter review for English, a high schooler may need to answer a phone call or walk the dog to then return to the chapter questions later. Perhaps they need to maintain focus on several different homework assignments while working from a bustling coffee shop.
Students in high school should be able to capitalize on their strengths and think creatively when facing a challenge. This ability connects with problem-solving skills and ingenuity. We can’t all be great at everything, but in what way can we use our personal/individual strengths to make challenging tasks easier? This is key for college and career readiness. High schoolers should also be thinking about setting goals for the future after graduation. College is not the “end all be all.” But if college isn’t their plan, then what is? Young adults need to recognize how important it is to find a path, take steps to follow that path, and evaluate their progress, preferences, and goals as they go. If they want to take a gap year, what do they hope to accomplish during that year? If they are going to study abroad, how will they decide on a program and pay for it? What skill set do they plan to use for supplementary income while in or out of college?
High schoolers should be capable of showing respect for those with opposing or differing viewpoints, even if the opposing side is argumentative, dismissive, rude, etc. It is important to maintain a level of self-control even when others are not. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they are wrong or right in their convictions. As young adults soon to be out on their own in the adult world, it is critical that high schoolers recognize how we must all be concerned about the well-being of all people; we may all be different races, but we’re all part of the human race. Therefore, we can positively contribute to our communities by advocating for human rights.
High schoolers should be able to assess their ability to actively listen and explain how active listening helps with conflict resolution. They should also be able to demonstrate leadership abilities within group contexts without dominating or overtaking the goal of the group. Young adults should also be prepared to demonstrate knowledge of social norms and appropriate behaviors between and among various cultural groups. They should recognize certain expectations and norms when interacting with authority figures, children, elders, etc.
Thus, we have completed our three-part series on SEL skills by grade level. The following series will serve best as a helpful resource rather than a scare-tactic of sorts. We all develop in our own ways, but it’s important we be mindful of these skills by grade level. If your child or student seems behind on any of these, consider the ways in which you can empower them.
Social Emotional Skills by Grade Level, Part II
As discussed in part one, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. We all know that academics are just one facet of education; the SEL skills that students learn and develop when in school are just as critical. Some might even argue that these “street smarts” are more important or beneficial than the “book smarts” we acquire in school. That said, distance learning and virtual schooling have certainly created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards.
Later Elementary Grades (4-5)
Students in 4th and 5th grade should be able to assess a range of feelings and emotions connected to specific scenarios, circumstances, and situations. In other words, they should be able to thoroughly describe how they feel and precisely what made them feel this way. Students should also be able to maintain control of certain behaviors and/or emotions that might interfere with their focus. For example, if they are feeling stressed about their homework, they should choose to turn off the television and put the phone away until they finish their assignments. Students should be able to articulate interests, goals, and the ways in which to develop the necessary skills to achieve those goals.
Students in the later elementary grades should be able to list the necessary steps for goal setting and future achievement while monitoring personal progress throughout the process. In other words, they should be able to take an active role by tracking growth and taking steps to improve along the way. Students should also begin to understand social cues that demonstrate how others are feeling during certain situations. Students should be able to not only recognize others’ perspectives, but specifically describe another’s perspective or stance as well. They should be using phrases like, I understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. I might disagree with you, but I appreciate your point of view. That’s not how I interpreted it, but I can see how you may have experienced it differently.
Students should be able to engage in positive interactions with people from different backgrounds and those with different opinions and beliefs. In the late elementary grades, students should begin to understand various cultural differences between groups, i.e., they should acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas. 4th and 5th graders should be able to describe various approaches to meeting new people and maintaining friendships while forging new friendships with peers in different social circles.
Students should begin to demonstrate self-respect and how to show respect to others, even during conflicts or disagreements; they choose their words wisely as to not offend others in the heat of the moment. Elementary schoolers should begin to understand different social cues and behaviors of others and how they might impact one’s decision making. Once reaching the late elementary grades, children should be able to brainstorm various options for solving a problem and anticipating the different outcomes depending on the situation. Finally, 4th and 5th grade students should be able to identify needs in their school/local environment and perform duties to contribute to these communities. For example, if the cafeteria floor is covered in trash, they will take it upon themselves to help clean up after others.
As said in the last piece, if your child or student falls short in any area mentioned above, don’t panic. Consider how you can help and empower them. In our final part of this series, we’ll cover middle school and high school benchmarks.
Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level, Part I
Social and emotional (SEL) skills involve more than just the concepts surrounding educational buzzwords like growth mindset, grit, and self-advocacy. SEL skills are being emphasized at an even greater extent now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person. Distance learning and virtual schooling created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. For this reason, SEL has become an even greater focus for school districts, parents, and educators. Besides providing resources for building SEL skills at home, it is equally important for families to be able to determine if children are reaching specific grade-level SEL standards. In the following series, we’ll discuss each of the SEL skills students should have by grade level to provide a helpful resource for parents and educators alike.
Early Elementary Grades (K-3)
As expected, the SEL skills required for student success change or evolve as students progress through the grade levels. In elementary school, much of the SEL emphasis is on positive interactions with the world. Children are obviously highly dependent on adults during these years, yet they are beginning to enter their own social spheres with their peers as well. Here are some of the notable SEL skills children should have developed or are developing during this time:
Students should be able to recognize and articulate their feelings/emotions; they should be beginning to understand how feelings and reactions are connected to behaviors. Students should also be beginning to exhibit impulse control and regulating their emotions. Early learners should be able to describe their preferences: What do they like/dislike? What are their strengths/weaknesses? Students will also begin to articulate personal opinions and needs during this time.
Elementary schoolers should be able to identify when they need help and who is in a position to help them in certain situations, i.e., peers, family members, educators, etc. Children should be able to roughly explain how learning is connected to personal growth and success. Elementary–aged students should also be able to set personal goals regarding behavior and academics. Students will be beginning to understand that other people have different perspectives or ways of looking at a situation; they’ll recognize that others may share the same experience, but have varying opinions and viewpoints at the same time. Students will also be able to describe peoples’ similarities and differences.
Early learners should be able to actively listen to others’ viewpoints and recognize their feelings while listening. Elementary–aged students should be able to recognize and describe positive traits in others; they’ll be able to give genuine compliments. Students will also begin to develop collaborative skills such as how to work/play with peers in constructive ways, how to solve and resolve problems and/or conflicts, and how to receive constructive criticism from others. Young children should be able exhibit the ability to adapt to new or changing situations or environments.
By the time children reach elementary school, they should be able to understand why hurting others is wrong, whether that be physical or emotional hurt. Students should be starting to read social cues and adjust behavior accordingly. Students should also be exhibiting sound decision making and weighing right vs. wrong. Elementary schoolers should be able to positively contribute to their classroom environment, including cleaning up after themselves and others, sharing, demonstrating kindness/understanding, and taking responsibility for themselves.
If your child or student perhaps falls short with some of these skills, that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. However, it’s certainly worth being mindful of and considering ways you may be able to help them out. In the next piece, we’ll cover the later elementary grades (4-5).
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