Social Emotional Learning and Conformity

The Teachers that I work with in the pre-school are very, very good at scaffolding social/emotional learning with children. That doesn't mean everyone feels happy all the time, in fact it means that hard things, sadness, worry and fear are seen as opportunities for children to begin talking together and learning about what other people like, and how they feel. Learning to play together and to respect each other's personal styles and ways of being are no doubt very important in growing up to be a kind person who is able to share and listen. I believe in this strongly.
Lately, however, I've been feeling a tiny  little bit of doubt about it all. It has begun to seem to me that in helping children with these skills, it is crucially important for teachers to monitor their own expectations about how people should be. I have begun to think that there is a very, very fine line between helping children be part of a group, and teaching children to behave in a very similar way, a way that 'meets our expectations'.

Now at Sabot, the teachers have a very beautiful way of talking with children, especially when strong feelings arise or there are difficult circumstances, like conflict or sadness. The culture of the school encourages connectedness, listening and empathy. Of course, no one gets it right every time, but the teachers work hard to listen closely, treat each other well, and talk about it when they fall short.

So I feel like I come from a pretty good place, but still, this new idea nags at me. How can teachers be sure that their expectations for behavior and relationships give each child a chance to be who they are? Within the expectation that we are all going to be kind to each other, how can we make room for those who relate to each other differently? It is easy to see, and we have much training which tells us, that we should make room for the person with big differences -someone who doesn't speak, for instance, or has extreme sensory sensitivities. But how do we be sure we aren't lumping all of the other children together and expecting them to play in a way that is not their way? How can schools create a social/emotional culture of learning that respects each person's individual differences?
Well, that's what I'm thinking about. What do you think?


  1. I believe it's necessary to develop children's ability to understand emotions. To learn to respect others, we must understand what they feel.
    I'm a Portuguese early childhood teacher. You can see me at

  2. i thought i had posted a comment here, but either it was rejected or i missed a button...anyway, i think this is a very interesting and important question. i often wonder if collaborative work might be premature for some kids when their capacity for empathy develops at a different pace. i wonder if that leads to conforming collaborative behavior that's not fully authentic. i believe you and your colleagues have a good eye out for that, but it's still a thought a struggle with in terms of all sorts of settings.

  3. Ahh, I have asked myself and pondered this question many times. I, myself don't have the answers, though I continue to search for them and do my best by the children in my care. Providing an environment full of love, understanding, empathy, and experiences from which to learn from... that's all I can do :)

  4. Jaqui- interesting comment, I hadn't thought about this in terms of collaborative work, just about play. I have wondered if we have sort of pre-conceived notions and expectations about how all children should be able to play, but now I will consider project work, too.
    Michelle, thanks for the comment, it's good to know there are other teachers thinking about the same kinds of things.


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