Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

School Culture and Climate



The “Better Angels of Our Nature”

The “Better Angels of Our Nature”
—Abraham Lincoln

by Ed DeRoche, Director,  Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego

Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and courage and dishonor and shame.
No matter how young you are or how old you have got.
—William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

In this blog, I am adding to Faulkner’s suggestion that children, teens, and adults “must never stop refusing to bear”—to include kindness, respect, apology/forgiveness, and integrity.

You may recall that my blog for October, “There is No Debating Civility,” addressed the issue of civility. I follow-up with five resources teachers and others might use for teaching “civility” in the November issue of News You Can Use.
Next, came the popular November blog, “The Masks of Character,” in which I discussed the virtues of commitment, responsibility, gratitude, perseverance, empathy, and faith.

Tis the season to underscore a few other virtues during this celebration of the holidays.

Kindness is not an inherited trait; it is a learned behavior.
—Katie Couric

An article in Scientific American (February 26, 2009) titled “Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts,” features an interview with Dacher Keltner author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Keltner noted that humans have remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence, and self-sacrifice.

The interviewer asked Keltner about “take-aways“ from his study. His science- based conclusion was that emotions are “the core of our capacities for virtue like cooperation, love and tenderness,” and that “emotions that bring out the good in others and in one’s self can readily be cultivated” [taught and learned, observed and practiced, modeled and mentored].

In the link below, two elementary school teachers (Pinger and Flook) discuss the HOW question by sharing their lessons from a “kindness curriculum” for young students (K-3).

The research suggests that “acts of kindness” may help increase and strengthen student relationships, social engagement, and broaden their social networks.

A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his
might that which he desires.
—Paulo Coelho

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of respect people reveal through their behaviors—respect for oneself and respect for others. Both are learned behaviors as are all character virtues/traits.

Steve and Lisa McChesney publish and produce a daily self-esteem and self- confidence building newsletter for both children and adults. Lisa is a public school teacher and Steve manages three karate schools. Visit them at

They say that “schools teach children about respect, but parents have the most influence on how respectful children become. Until children show respect at home, it’s unlikely they will show it anywhere else.”

“How can you [parents and teachers] show respect to your child?

  • Be honest. If you do something wrong, admit it and apologize.
  • Be positive. Don’t embarrass, insult or make fun of your child.
  • Be trusting. Let your child make choices and take responsibility.
  • Be fair. Listen to your child’s side of the story before reaching a conclusion.
  • Be polite. Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
  • Be reliable. Keep promises. Show your child that you mean what you say.
  • Be a good listener. Give your child your full attention.”


It’s not an easy journey to get to a place where you forgive people.
But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.
—Tyler Perry

In this life, when you deny someone an apology, you will remember it at the time you beg forgiveness.
—Toba Beta

In an article titled, Leadership, Equity, and Pandemic, Joseph Davis (Ferguson- Florissant School District) noted that “many people and communities carry hurt and anger because of racism and injustice, thus learning to feel empathy and build connection between people is key. We need to teach forgiveness….” Forgiveness
can’t be forgotten, because so many of us have been wronged in so many different ways, and we carry that toxicity with us. We need to learn to forgive people so we can move on, and that allows you to engage and to grow in ways you couldn’t before.”

Davis also noted that those in “positions of power” should respond to the call for “action” and be ready to set an example in this work. “It may not be your fault, but it is your fight,” he said.

Author Marlee McKee writes: “How to apologize can be the key to getting true forgiveness and moving a relationship forward in a positive way.” She offers these seven tips for apologizing sincerely and successfully:

1. Ask for permission to apologize.
2. Let them know that you realize that you hurt them.
3. Tell them how you plan to right the situation.
4. Let them know that inherent in your apology is a promise that you won’t do what you did again.
5. After you’ve talked through things, formally ask them for forgiveness.
6. Consider following up with a handwritten note.
7. Now it’s time for both people to go forth and live out their promises.
sincere- apology

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”
—Oprah Winfrey

One of the “better angels” we need watching over us are people who consistently demonstrate that they are trustworthy, honest, and kind. Integrity is one of the cornerstones of character. Thus, like other character strengths/trait, we need to work on it, test it, define it, teach it, model it, and practice it.

“What then, are the “traits” of integrity? Here are the main behaviors that reveal if someone has the kind of integrity you want in your colleagues, friends, family, students, coworkers, and leaders.

1. Taking responsibility for their actions
2. Putting others’ needs above their own.
3. Offering to help others in need.
4. Giving others the benefit of the doubt.
5. Choosing honesty in all things.
6. Showing respect to everyone.
7. Manifesting humility.
8. Being able to admit they’re wrong.
9. Showing regular reliability.
10. Conveying true kindness.”

A writer put it this way: “The good news about integrity is that we’re not born with it—or without it—which means that it’s a behavior-based virtue we can cultivate over time. We can set a goal to show more integrity in everyday life and we can reach that goal by practicing the behaviors above, as well as countless others which too often go unnoticed.”

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego, BLOG, DECEMBER 2020

We’d like to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback:




Lady Liberty

SEL and Media Literacy Resources for Election Season

Summary: The Panorama Education team has put together a list of informational resources, articles, and guides to provide support in fostering a civil classroom environment, whether in-person or virtually. There are lists for districts, school leaders, and teachers as well as for families and caregivers.

Source:  The Panorama Education Staff, Panorama Education, October.November 2020



The Three Imperatives of Teaching During the Pandemic: An Ethicist Weighs In

Summary:  The premise of this article is to “keep students front and center” during the pandemic.  The author suggest three imperatives in order to make this happen. These include putting student health and safety first, teaching critical thinking, and teaching ethical leadership.

Source:  Ann Gregg Skeet, Education Week, October 25, 2020




Navigating Social and Emotional Learning from the Inside Out

Summary:  This report looks at 25 top SEL programs to identify and summarize key features and attributes of programming for elementary-age children, addressing the need for detailed information about SEL curricula and implementation to help schools and OST providers make informed decisions.

Source:  Stephanie Jones et al, Harvard Graduate School of Education, May 2, 2017



The Essential Traits of a Positive School Climate

Summary:  This article, aimed at school principals, names four essential characteristics of a positive school climate.  These are strong relationships, academic expectations coupled with strong supports, consistent expectations for behavior, and collection of feedback and adjustments.  

Source:  Arianna Prothero, Education Week, October 13, 2020



Applying an Equity Lens to Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

Summary:  This is a research brief from Penn State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which looks at the importance of addressing the barrier of equity when helping youth develop social, emotional, and academic competencies.  The article explores barriers and opportunities associated with making sure that all students receive the benefits of social-emotional learning.

Source: Simmons, D. N., Brackett, M. A., & Adler, N. (2018) “Applying an Equity Lens to Social, Emotional, and Academic Development,” Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University.



In Preschools, Sharing and Playtime Look Different Now

Summary:  The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused schools to reimagine some of the most important practices in order to maintain student health and social-distancing.  This article addresses how pre-schools can get creative to provide students with opportunities for playtime and sharing.

Source:  Chelsea Sheasley, Edutopia, September 4, 2020



Teaching Social-Emotional Skills Amid COVID-19

Summary:  This article is part of a series published in Education Week called “How We Go Back to School.”  This particular article addresses the need for good social-emotional skills in dealing with the challenges of schooling during the current pandemic.  This article focuses on connecting students with caring adults, practicing emotional intelligence, and dealing with sources of trauma and stress.  In each section, there are links to additional articles and resources.

Source:  Arianna Prothero and Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week, September 2, 2020



It’s Time to Rethink How Schools Use Data to Implement Social and Emotional Learning

Summary:  This article presents CASEL’s viewpoint on the importance of the use of data when implementing SEL.  Ally Skoog-Hoffman, a research director at CASEL, presents several case studies where school districts have used data to improve and guide their work on SEL.

Source:  Ally-Skoog-Hoffman, Education DIVE, September 15, 2020



How Education Research Aims to Tackle Racism

Summary:  This article reports on three upcoming studies focusing on the issue of systemic racism in American education.  The three journals will cover different aspects of this issue including outcomes, attitudes, and environments and how students can learn to resist systemic racism.

Source:  Matt Zalaznick, District Administration, September 18, 2020