Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.Fred Rogers
After giving birth to my son, Kailash, in the spring of 2018, I was in a heightened state in which I became radically more aware of the importance of human relationships. Emerging from my cocoon, I was lucky that the first film I went out to see as a new mother was Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which explores the life and contributions of the host of the popular PBS children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. For many of us, Rogers demonstrates what being a great teacher is all about. After seeing this inspiring movie, I realized that long before we had the term “social and emotional learning,” Fred Rogers was teaching SEL and reinforcing in each episode that our sense of connection affects how we learn. Through his television program, he was in fact sharing the message that the network of human relationships we live in—let’s call it love—is the fabric of our lives.
Love is a word we shy away from far too much in education. We need to be bold enough and brave enough to see it as central to our work as educators. If teaching and learning rest on the power of our relationships, then love is a critical element. A student’s sense of belonging impacts academic performance and overall well-being, reminding us that young people often don’t care how much you know, but care how much you care. SEL strategies are beneficial, but if the teachers employing these strategies aren’t coming from a place of love, then they will ultimately be futile.
College and career readiness is an important goal to hold up for our students, and no doubt SEL contributes greatly toward the achievement of that goal, but I don’t believe it should be our only North Star. The ultimate goal of SEL and our work as educators should be love—to create a classroom environment in which we and our students feel seen, safe, free, appreciated, and loved. I was recently listening to my favorite podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett, in which Tippett was interviewing my home state senator, Corey Booker. In the interview Senator Booker shared, “I believe in a radical love. I believe that we should love those who hate us. I believe we should love those who scorn us. Our nation right now is settling for this ideal of ‘tolerance’ when we should be reaching for the ideal of love. Tolerance is ‘I’m stomaching your right to be different, but if you disappear off the face of the earth, I don’t care—I’m no worse, I’m no better off.’ Love says, ‘I see you.’” When I think about my baby boy, what I most want for him in this life is to be seen and to see others—to experience and offer love on a daily basis. May all children we teach gain this sense of being seen.
While there are quick and easy ways to include SEL in our day-to-day classroom practice, there are no shortcuts to the emotional resonance of this work. Research continually confirms that the most integral factor in student acquisition of SEL is a teacher’s own SEL. By allowing time and energy for our own self-reflection, self-compassion, and self-love, we nourish our ability to be truly great teachers. As James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” We as educators must do own work and cultivate love in ourselves and love for others to nourish our sense of interconnectedness for our own and our students’ sake.
Adapted from SEL Every Day: Integrating Social and Emotional Learning with Instruction in Secondary Classrooms by Meena Srinivasan. Copyright © 2019. Published by W.W. Norton.
Meena Srinivasan, an SEL and mindfulness leader, is Executive Director of Transformative Educational Leadership.