Teaching Kids to Thrive with Essential SEL Skills
Reviewed by Laura Von Staden
In this age of high stakes testing and evaluation, instant gratification, and competition to get into the best schools at any cost, we seem to be leaving out teaching some of the most vital skills – the ones that that make us truly human and have been shown to increase students’ chances of success, while helping them to be happier, healthier, more well-balanced citizens.
In this well-researched book, Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford give us a supreme guide full of resources, both in their book and in the companion website, to teach the essential (not soft by any means) “thrive” skills of mindfulness, control of executive function (including time management, organization, self-control, flexibility, focus and others), self-efficacy, perseverance, resilience, responsibility, integrity, empathy and gratitude.
Theory in depth and actions in detail
Each chapter starts with a scenario or story followed by a clear description of what the skill is and a clear presentation and explanation of the research behind why it’s important to teach it.
Each chapter then follows this compelling argument with sections on what it looks like in the classroom, complete with lots of resources and – where it is helpful – clear, simple sidebar boxes. They also provide FAQs, where authentic, honest, frank questions are addressed; plus discussion questions and exercises, great for reflection and planning, with an invitation to post answers to twitter. And finally, a section of activities with clear instructions for use in the classroom.
Modeling moment by moment
Some of the things that I especially liked about this book include how Silver and Stafford explain the way the brain works with enough detail for us to understand the significance and interrelatedness of these skills without either over-simplifying the information or overwhelming us or our students.
I also really liked the way Silver and Stafford gave very specific examples of how we can do better. For instance, we have probably all heard about, understand, and feel that we should implement the mantra that all students can learn. But are we careful not to take a deep sigh or drop our shoulders when that same student comes to us for the tenth time with a problem?
The authors make a point of stating that we are always modeling for our students, even when we don’t mean to. They note that subtle changes can make a huge difference and that not only can we easily embed these skills into our teaching, but any time that we do spend directly teaching them will be more than earned back in a decrease in disruptions and distractions and increases in classroom community and student focus, ownership and responsibility for their own learning.
Vital skills for student success
As the education community begins to recognize the importance of the so-called SEL curriculum that is desperately missing, Silver and Stafford provide us with a great book that craftily ties together the theories and research on these overlapping, vital skills. Beyond the rich pages of the book, there’s a “living” version on the accompanying website.
The authors state it this way: “the purpose of this book is to give teachers strategies, tools, and methods for helping students help themselves” (p.105). They have definitely achieved that purpose! This is a great book for any teacher or administrator teaching anything from pre-K to 12th grade.
Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Middle School Special Education Lead Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development for her school district.