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October 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 2

Relevant Read / Harmonious Classrooms

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Social-emotional learning
Designing a Prosocial Classroom: Fostering Collaboration in Students From PreK-12 with the Curriculum You Already Use by Christi Bergin (Norton, 2018).
The term prosocial doesn't sound revolutionary. But the ideas presented in this book turn some standard ways of looking at students' social skills and discipline if not upside-down, at least sideways. The first twist, evident in early chapters as Bergin explains the concept of prosocial behavior, is that it's more productive—for both researchers and educators—to focus on and promote positive behaviors many kids engage in rather than training most attention on negative behaviors like bullying.
"Prosocial behaviors" are any actions that benefit others and promote harmonious relationships; giving a fellow student who's struggling a hug or compliment, inviting a new student to lunch, sharing, and even making others laugh are a few examples. Prosocial conduct goes beyond "niceness" to active steps like standing up for others or admitting a mistake.
Bergin's book is conversational and practical, but presents a wealth of research about children's social behavior and classroom climate and the connection of both to learning. Bergin makes clear that research indicates (1) fostering prosocial behavior in a classroom can increase everyone's learning, and (2) although some kids arrive at school more positive and helpful than others, a teacher can strengthen all students' socially beneficial tendencies, particularly with disciplinary methods that promote empathy and positive values. Another conventional idea (based on Piaget) that research upends, writes Bergin, is that very young children rarely act prosocially because they're egocentric. Even toddlers will comfort a distressed peer, Bergin points out.
Bergin describes how educators can build on this early inclination to help others, offering some suggestions (like letting friends work together or persisting with a defiant student until you get a break-through) that again counteract conventional wisdom.

EL’s experienced team of writers and editors produces Educational Leadership magazine, an award-winning publication that reaches hundreds of thousands of K-12 educators and leaders each year. Our work directly supports the mission of ASCD: To empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. 

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