Values + Social and Emotional Learning = Powerful Jewish Learning

November 20, 2018

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


We argue that much can be gained from organizing and consolidating efforts around common values and social and emotional learning (SEL). Despite the various articulated goals of Jewish education, there seems to be a consensus that regardless of the setting or denomination, we hope our students’ learning leads to the living of a meaningful life with deep connections to others, and an understanding that their actions can have a profound impact in this world. Judaism’s teachings focus on the development and growth of the self, how we connect with community, and how we conduct ourselves in the world. This focus, though longstanding, has gained momentum with exciting, emerging initiatives around thriving, shleimut (wholeness), flourishing, or reaching one’s full human potential.

We recommend starting with a small number of core values to guide all work within any setting, creating a “through-line” of Jewish values and character development. This does not mean the introduction of yet another item on the plate; rather these values can be integrated into already existing curricula regardless of content matter.

Core values can be drawn from the language of mussar (e.g., Achrayut/responsibility) or other Jewish sources (e.g., treating people as created b’tzelem Elohim/in the image of God). How many values? Which ones? It is important for leaders, together with other constituents, to answer these for their own settings. The core values should be flexible enough to apply to multiple within a range of content areas and also to the daily experience of the students.

Regardless of which are chosen, it will take more than learning about values to achieve the desired outcomes. Here, an approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) is helpful. SEL is an educational process that provides the framework for the teaching of these competencies. According to CASEL, SEL “is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Social and emotional (SE) competencies form the foundation for the enactment of values. Achrayut? Kavod/respect? B’tzelem Elohim? Each will require the application of communication skills, self-regulation, emotional awareness, problem solving, and positive motivation and goal orientation. As an educational process and framework, SEL supports the development of these skills. The interplay among cognitive, social, and emotional development is integral to any approach used to teach Jewish values and character development.

Core values and focal SE competencies can become a common, integrative framework for all learning; they can be reinforced in any and all subject areas across the curriculum. They can provide focus to broad and difficult topics (e.g., How do we emphasize our values and competencies through what we teach, and how we teach, in tefillah, Israel, general studies, etc.?). They could provide a filter for taking on or adapting new initiatives (To what extent does it support our values and competence framework? How might new ideas be integrated into our ongoing approach?). They can provide a structure for classroom management so that teachers can spend their time doing what they love to do: teach.

A values + SEL framework can be the foundation, the educational process, to teach and practice the necessary skills to live the values our students are learning, and in the process, also understand that Judaism provides the blueprint to thrive, flourish, feel whole, and be on a path to achieving their full human potential.

Read the entire post on eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Dec. 02, 2018