By: Jennifer Miller, Shannon Wanless, and Roger Weissberg
Parents, teachers, and other influential adults agree that social and emotional learning is essential for children’s growth and indeed success today and for their future. Although they agree on the importance, they can run into challenges when attempting to work together to assess and support these skills. The purpose and role of social and emotional learning (SEL) assessments are particularly important because the very act of assessing can help parents and teachers learn how to best scaffold children’s learning as they move forward in their development. When educators and parents learn from one another about how social and emotional skills are visible and promoted in their various contexts (home, school, community), they can coordinate and have a bigger impact on children. Specifically in terms of assessment, this can mean that educators can make sure they are assessing the SEL skills that also matter to parents, and that the SEL skills educators are noticing and supporting at school can align with the SEL skills that parents notice and support at home.
How can we help educators and parents to work together to assess and support their children’s social and emotional skills?
In an authentic partnership, each partner contributes to the relationship with care, ideas, and actions. If we are working toward more meaningful partnerships between educators and parents to assess students’ social and emotional learning, all three components are needed. In other words, how can parents, who possess intimate insights into their children’s social and emotional development, share their knowledge while also, learning about the social and emotional curriculum and how to support social and emotional benchmarks and milestones that are normative at each age and stage? When educators have empathy for and take the perspective of parents they can achieve a more productive relationship that connects, rather than distances. Parents’ unique needs that educators might consider include:
- A deep emotional attachment and sensitivity to their children’s social and emotional development. This should not be considered a weakness, if we are informed emotional intelligence advocates, but an asset we should take into consideration.
- Knowledge from home observations and experiences to add to the complex richness of understanding their child’s social and emotional competencies.
- A language used to describe what they are observing with their children’s behavior and what they hope for in promoting their children’s development. Parents’ terminology differs from educators though the goals are the same. Research to support this will be coming out in November so expect more to come on this topic.
- A need to understand the strengths of their own child in order to promote and build upon those strengths.
- An understanding of what social and emotional skills their child is working on advancing currently paired with actionable, simple steps to promote those skill areas at home.
Whether we require a rubric, an infographic, a checklist, or observational tool, the SEL assessment format we use will also require the context of a caring, supportive relationship between teacher and parent. This helps lower the risk of discussing these sensitive topics and ensures that parent and educator approach the issue on the same team.
Perhaps a place to begin would be an SEL practice from Responsive Classroom used with teachers and students in the first six weeks of school prior to developing learning agreements. What if we also began the school year asking parents – “What are your hopes and dreams for your child for the school year?” Parents might respond with hopes that their child might feel more confident in themselves, or demonstrate kindness to others. These kinds of hopes could be built directly into a flexible social and emotional assessment so that parents, teachers, and students alike could reflect on progress throughout the year.
As educators work on building more collaborative relationships with parents around SEL assessments, there are a number of key questions for the field to consider:
- How can parents contribute to an individual child’s social and emotional assessment by offering their insights and observations?
- How can the assessment illuminate student strengths and assets as a first step to ensure parents and teachers are building on the best of our students?
- How can we utilize current SEL structures like morning meetings, like hopes and dreams, like goal setting and problem-solving to assess for progress and student learning over a school year? Are there structures at home, such as family dinners and chore routines that can also inform our understanding of student’s SEL skills?
- How can assessment results provide new insights for educators and parents so that they better understand children’s social and emotional development, their challenges, and their progress?
- How can educators work with parents to come up with strategies to use at school and at home that enhances children’s peer relationships and development?
Although teachers and educators often want to work together, there are differences in their experiences, approaches, and ways of talking about social and emotional learning that can make this partnership challenging. The strategies described attempt to open dialogue between educators and parents so they can begin seeing from each other’s perspectives, communicating, and aligning their efforts for the greatest impact on the children they both care about.
Jennifer Miller, M.Ed.
Family and Educational Consultant, Social and Emotional Learning
Founder, Confident Parents, Confident Kids
Expert, NBC Universal’s Parent Toolkit
Shannon B. Wanless, Ph.D.
School of Education, University of Pittsburgh
Roger Weissberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago
NoVo Foundation Endowed Chair in Social and Emotional Learning at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
Chief Knowledge Officer for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning
Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.