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Teaching Social and Emotional Learning

I enthusiastically joined the Positive Approaches to Student Behavior and Restorative Practices inquiry-to-action team. I was nervous, however, to find out I would be presenting my inquiry on Chancellor’s Day, a professional development day for all New York City teachers. I tried to remind myself that it was like graduate school and I would be fine. 
In May of the 2014-2016 school year, it was really down to the wire to finalize my presentation and gather together my research, data, and findings on my students. When we first began the inquiry process, my team facilitator, Stacey, gave me a plethora of resources to help with the problematic behaviors in my class. During this inquiry process, I identified a core belief: the goal of kindergarten is to teach kids social and emotional learning. But it can’t all be about stickers and prizes. After the incentives lose their value, children need to have the ability to self-regulate without rewards.  
The question is: Can social and emotional learning be taught?
The extent to which teachers can teach social and emotional learning is a key question, one that has been debated in a recent New York Times article. The article reminds us that the academic and social challenges our students face can cause loneliness, alienation, and stress. If they are not taught the particular skills needed to cope, they will not be able to calm down or self-regulate during stressful situations. Have you ever heard a teacher say “Relax!” to a student? We are all guilty of these kinds of statements at one time or another. I have learned to ask myself first, “How can I teach them to relax?”