The Power of Social Emotional Learning: Podcast #40

Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. With over 20 years of educational experience, Dr. Carstarphen has an impressive record of transformative educational leadership. She will also be a speaker at our upcoming National Leadership Forum 2017. Below are some highlights from our conversation. Here is the full audio of our discussion:



Tim Elmore: So let’s talk about social emotional learning. I know this is one of your major priorities—building whole people. Can you start this conversation by just answering why social emotional learning is important to you and the Atlanta Public School district?

Meria Carstarphen: We saw people living both in home situations and work/school situations that were steeped in chronic stress. The decision-making behavior for both adults and children was pretty terrible at the time. We felt like we needed to make social emotional learning a district priority because we can’t teach kids unless they’re willing to take some ownership in the learning process. The good news about social emotional learning is that these skills can actually be taught. By teaching it, the kids will develop these smarts and the heart to be better people.

Tim: Absolutely. Well I know some of the kids in Atlanta live in toxic homes or live in tough zip codes, so they are coming in with perhaps not great skill sets for building relationships, applying the knowledge, or having the right attitude.

Meria: It’s tough because for us it was compounded. Not only are they not getting those skills, but also they’re just not getting an education. So their level of frustration with the learning process worsened. People don’t care unless they know you care. Part of showing them that is to pause the high stakes academic conversation and just say, “We care about you.”


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Tim: Well just playing off what you said, I’ve read the numbers. Students participating in social emotional learning programs scored an average of 11% more on achievement tests and are 91% more likely to complete high school. In a survey, 93% of teachers said they want more focus on social emotional learning. They are realizing we need social emotional learning in order to do math, reading, or history well.

Meria: I hear teachers say, “I can do my job, but I’ve got those one or two kids that constantly disrupt.” What if you were able to teach a kid how to self-monitor, calm down when they feel angry, or work out their problems while the teacher is still teaching? What it does for teachers is, it lets them do what they do best—teach. Most of the challenge with teaching is classroom management. Imagine a new teacher being able to split that responsibility with the child.

Tim: That’s amazing. Well I know that as an educator, and certainly as a superintendent, those positive outcomes are huge for you. It’s not always a smarts issue with kids, it’s everything else going on in their life that prevents them from really tuning in. Why should colleges and employers who receive your graduates be interested in the fact that Atlanta Public Schools is focusing on social emotional learning?

Meria: The National Association of Colleges and Employers looked at what were the top skills that employers actually want from graduates. When we did the analysis of their top ten, five of them were actually the social emotional learning competencies. So it was things like: decision making, problem solving, communication, organization, and prioritization. Even the New York Times reported that kids who scored high on these kinds of social skills are going to be four times more likely to graduate from college. These skills must be taught and they can be. Aristotle said more than 2,000 years ago, “To educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

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Join Dr. Meria Carstarphen at National Leadership Forum 2017
Fast Foward: Racing Towards the Future As Y Shifts to Z

When you attend the 2017 National Leadership Forum, you’ll get the key to…

  • Rediscovering the reason you began teaching or training young adults in the first place, with the tools to successfully stay refreshed throughout the year.
  • Mastering a teaching method that allows Generation Z to own their learning.
  • Enjoying a lasting connection with your students that compels them to give their best day in and day out.
  • Making Monday your favorite day of the week.
  • Preview where student engagement and education is heading in the future.

Learn More Here

The Power of Social Emotional Learning: Podcast #40