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Dalio Education announces free social and emotional learning course for school staff in Connecticut

With a grant from Dalio Education, all prekindergarten through 12th grade school staff in Connecticut are being offered a free 10-hour online course called Social and Emotional Learning in Times of Uncertainty and Stress: Research-Based Strategies, Dalio Education and education officials announced Friday.

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence developed the course. Marc Brackett, founder and director of the center, said it's "a little bit of theory, a little bit of science, but a whole of practical strategies," and participants will get a certificate from Yale.

It will be hosted on Coursera and be available on a rolling basis, starting in the fall and going through the end of 2020. Preregistration for the course is available at ycei.org/register. Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona hopes this course can be embedded in professional development days, so it's seen as integral rather than ancillary.

The course is intended to help participants enhance their skills related to identifying and managing difficult emotions, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the science of stress and trauma, according to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence's website. Subjects that will be covered include strategies for achieving and maintaining greater well-being, and exploring the intersection of race, biases, identity and social and emotional learning.

Course participants will be able to practice key steps for helping students manage their emotions, and they will be equipped to "create a concrete action plan for the best possible school year," according to the Yale center's website.

"It couldn't be a more important time given the context of the twin pandemics we're grappling with: the pandemic of COVID-19 and also the pandemic of systemic racism that's been with us since the beginning of the country," said John King Jr., who served as U.S. secretary of education under President Barack Obama and is now president and CEO of The Education Trust.

King was the moderator of a Zoom roundtable Friday morning with federal, state and local education leaders.

Jan Hochadel, president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union, said the project began when Barbara Dalio — education philanthropist and wife of billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio — called her after the school year ended to see how educators were doing.

After hearing about how teachers were stressed and afraid, Dalio introduced Hochadel to Brackett. Hochadel said she knew a social-emotional learning course was too good to offer just to a few schools.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning defines social and emotional learning as "the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."

"Connecticut, you really are the cool kids right now. We have been trying to get 49 other states to take social-emotional learning seriously," said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. She added that Gov. Ned Lamont, who was also on the call, is "like the coolest of the cool kids right now, because once you get people in powerful places understanding how important this is, things start to move."

The governor spoke of teachers and principals frequently telling him they have a number of kids who aren't ready to learn, because of the trauma they bring from home.

"We definitely know as educators if our students don't have the coping strategies to deal with their emotional trauma, they will not be available for academic learning in the classroom," said Erin Daly, a third grade teacher in Danbury Public Schools and president of the teachers union in Danbury.

"Very often, in subtle ways, we don't even give kids permission to feel, and this is what this work is all about," said Tom Nicholas, vice president of the Connecticut Education Association, noting that kids' lives are so scripted and they have to ask permission for everything.

Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, spoke of implementing a social and emotional learning approach in Hamden and Bridgeport.

"I really know that it works," she said. "I saw academic achievement move, I saw absenteeism decrease, I saw tardiness decrease, suspensions decrease."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said this work is especially important, given the three crises the country faces: an economic crisis, a health crisis, and the "long-awaited racial reckoning."

"Most of us, as teachers, we didn't start as psychologists, we didn't start as social workers, we didn't start as guidance counselors," she said, "and frankly, if we had, this is a crisis like no other."

e.moser@theday.com

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