Phillips discusses social-emotional learning, character building in curriculum

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge Superintendent of Schools Dirk Phillips outlined the student development curriculum the schools are implementing in the district’s five schools at the April 5 Board of Education meeting, talking about how social-emotional learning and character education go hand in hand with academics.

“We talk about academics, but it’s just as important, if not more important, to talk about social-emotional learning and character education,” Phillips said at the meeting. “If those are not in place, it will actually hinder their academic education.”

According to Phillips, social-emotional learning includes teaching students self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Character education teaches trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

“These concepts are embedded into our curriculum,” Phillips said. “We’re seeing lessons from literature and history that are happening when it comes to student development, and those are lessons that we are reiterating to the students. As we’re going over historic moments or we’re reading novels, we’re making sure they’re getting the full picture of not just the subject content, but how it relates to them.”

Student recognition also reinforces the concepts, as do community service events.

“A lot of times we will have dedicated classroom time; a lot of these things are reviewed and gone over,” Phillips said. “You’ll see a lot of current events, where teachers take time — especially in humanities classes — where they take time to have those discussions with students. There might be times where you see a classroom lesson dedicated to one of these topics, just to enhance student understanding.”

With this curriculum, guidance counselors take on lessons with students as well, and assemblies at the schools focus on social-emotional learning and character development.

“We want to make sure that we are developing qualities within the individual, and not just focusing on the academics,” Phillips said, mentioning the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as current events that have been discussed in the schools. He stressed the importance of relating current bias crimes to those that students learn about in their history classes. “It’s important that the students have had an opportunity to learn the skills and the character traits that are expected of them, so they can handle these discussions and can act in a proper manner when dealing with these types of conflicts.”

Staff training is also involved when including social-emotional learning and character education in the curriculum.