How This “Teacher Training” Can Transform the World

By: Jeff Nazzaro

For Karen Dodson, it all goes back to using the wheel—the CASEL Wheel, that is—to reinvent education and through it, transform the world. And the best part might be that, while it provides a framework ideally suited to school environments, it can be readily adapted and applied to the business world, and really? Any aspect of society.

UCR University Extension instructor Karen Dodson “It’s suitable for any career that deals with interpersonal exchanges,” Karen said. “There’s so much volatility with people’s opinions and perspectives. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) provides you with a framework to be able to approach decision-making and community efforts with empathy and understanding. If you’re the manager of a department, if you’re running a business, how do you deal with those situations? SEL helps with that a lot. Teachers really find it valuable for their own practice, just to deal with parents, principals, students. Business people will be able to use it in the same way.”

“SEL is suitable for any career that deals with interpersonal exchanges….”

CASEL stands for Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, an organization committed to forging a more inclusive, just world through promoting social and emotional learning in our schools. Karen, who also serves as supervisor and instructor for teacher education at UCR, designed and teaches both courses included in the Social and Emotional Learning Specialized Study Program at UCR University Extension.

The program comprises two three-unit courses: Academic Achievement and Social Emotional Learning and Social and Emotional Learning Applications in the Classroom. The first involves a review of current research and resources in the field, while the latter shows students how to apply that knowledge in the formation of a comprehensive plan for their classroom, their school, and their community.

“SEL can be customized for any professional setting…”

Karen said she also shows students how to customize these plans for virtually any professional setting, since the concepts behind social and emotional learning (SEL) are universal. And given its potential for reach within the community in an increasingly polarized world, Karen sees the program as more vital and relevant than ever.

“Good teaching has always taken into account the whole child,” she said. “However, because of current times, current situations, it’s become more essential to have specific timelines and structures to guide us into the content. We want it to be more transparent, more trackable, more accountable, all of those things.”

At the hub of the CASEL Wheel is the basic concept of SEL, which defines as the “process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

“SEL positively influences school and business cultures as a whole…”

Imparted through its five main principles—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills—SEL in theory works its way through individual classrooms to positively influence school culture as a whole, then helps forge authentic partnerships with families and caregivers, before finally leading to aligned learning opportunities in communities.

“The thing about schools is that there’s more of the accountability factor in terms of input because the teachers are the ones responsible for this curriculum being inputted first in the classrooms, schools, families, communities,” said Karen.

But while teachers still make up the majority of her SEL students, Karen also teaches counselors, resource specialists, administrators, and even parents who want to better understand their children and forge stronger, richer relationships starting in the home. It’s also perfect for those in business, whether management or ownership roles.”

“SEL is perfect for parents, counselors, administrators, and those in business management…”

“It’s definitely flexible,” Karen said. “The classroom can be switched to ‘this is my work pod, these are the five to 20 people I work with, and here’s the greater department and here’s the greater organization, as a whole.’ It’s the same principles. SEL can break boundaries. SEL can transform the world.”