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Change Is on the Horizon This Back-to-School Season

Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell welcomed superintendents to a new school year at the State Department of Education’s annual back-to-school meeting.

While the last weeks of summer vacation bring much of the same back-to-school prep across Connecticut as they do every year, superintendents and other education leaders attending the Commissioner of Education’s annual back to school conference yesterday looked ahead to some changes that could have a big impact on Connecticut classrooms.

The laws and policies that govern much of what happens in schools are set by politicians, and, with elections taking place this November, the winners elected to these crucial positions will have the ability to shape our schools for years to come.

“The State Board of Education may see substantial changes in the coming school year,” said board chair Allan Taylor. The terms of six of the 11 members of the State Board of Education will be up this February, and whichever candidate is elected governor this November will have the power to appoint members of his choosing. In Connecticut, the Commissioner of Education is also a position appointed by the state’s governor.

Every seat in the state legislature is up for election this year, and one key player, State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, the co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, is already out of the running. Fleischmann, a 23-year incumbent, lost Tuesday’s Democratic primary to political newcomer Jillian Gilchrest.

“We’ll have two new chairs of the Education Committee,” said Robert Radar, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. “We’ll have a new governor, things are going to be pretty different.” Former Senate Democratic Education Committee Co-Chair Gayle Slossberg decided last spring that she would not seek reelection.

An Emotion Revolution

One change that’s already coming to Connecticut classrooms is a new focus on social and emotional learning.

Dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, says he wants to make Connecticut the first emotionally intelligent state.

“It’s time for an emotion revolution,” Dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, told superintendents. “If you address how students feel, it makes a big difference.”

Research has shown that school-based social and emotional learning programs not only improve students’ proficiency in managing their emotions and behavior, but also substantially improve academic outcomes. 

“All of us in education need to have these skills so that we can best support our students,” said Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell.

“The life of a student is replete with hundreds of emotions a day. How much direct instruction are we giving kids on managing their emotions?” Brackett asked.

He said that when he and other researchers conduct interviews and surveys with children, they find that students are not doing well, emotionally. “The top three emotions that our nation’s youth tell us they’re experiencing are tired, bored, and stressed.”

Some may dismiss social and emotional learning as “soft skills,” but Brackett argues there is no such thing. “Emotional skills are harder to manage than cognitive skills,” he said.

The RULER approach, developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, takes a systemic approach to addressing social and emotional learning in schools. “A piecemeal approach doesn’t work,” Brackett added. “It’s so important to start with the adults.”

For teachers, Brackett says, the primary emotion they feel at school is frustration. Yet teachers who work with principals with higher levels of emotional intelligence are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and less likely to experience burnout.

“If you want less teacher burnout, think about hiring emotionally intelligent principals,” he said.

Brackett encouraged superintendents to work with him and the Yale Center to make Connecticut the first emotionally intelligent state. “Together we can build a healthier and more equitable, innovative, and compassionate Connecticut, so all children can thrive and achieve their dreams.”

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