The Intersection of Social Emotional Skill Building and Productive Struggle

The quote that’s the featured image for this blog really resonates with me.  In particular, replacing the word ‘parents’ in the quote with the word ‘educators’ reminds me how important it is that we continually find ways to influence a child’s life so that they gain “…a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”  In my view, this can only be achieved through opportunities of product struggle – which to me is defined as those challenges that help students build perseverance, confidence, and flexibility.

Social-emotional skill building is one area in particular where I believe we’re still finding how best to utilize productive struggle.  I have welcomed the intentional push in education over the past decade to raise social-emotional learning to a priority that is equal to the core academic areas, but I believe as educators we are still feeling-our-way through the intersection between social-emotional skill building and providing those all important situations for students to experience productive struggle which builds emotional resilience.

Our Soaring for Success Team at Ledge Street Elementary (the team of teachers/administration leading our Social-Emotional Learning work) is currently clarifying for our school the intersection between social-emotional skill building with students and allowing students ample opportunities to productively struggle through emotions.  It’s proving to be a complicated task.  In order to be successful achieving that balance, we need to purposefully structure emotional supports for children in a way that does some of the work for them, while at the same time allowing them to struggle through parts of the problem independently.  But at what point do we do the work for them?  And at what point do we let them fail-forward based on their own choices?  That’s the complicated part.

A lot is riding on educators finding this balance quickly and every interaction we have with a child matters.  For instance, if we address a situation too heavy on the social-emotional skill building side and over-support the child, we risk ‘doing the work’ for them and robbing them of an opportunity to build perseverance and strength in the face of adversity.  Inversely, if we come into a situation too heavy on the productive struggle side and don’t support them enough emotionally, that can lead to a child feeling helpless or not feeling a sense of belonging in their learning environment.  If the thousands of interactions we have each day with children are out-of-balance in either of those directions, it will adversely affect the learning culture within a school.  That’s the urgency that is currently driving some of the change at our school.

I am intrigued by this journey we’re on to find the balance between social-emotional skill building and productive struggle.  A lot is riding on us as educators to ensure that children are supported emotionally as they learn to independently build and repair their own confidence, but we also must allow children opportunities to struggle through the social-emotional challenges they face.  If we can find this balance, I know we’ll achieve much greater success overall as a school moving forward.

I welcome your thoughts and comments!