Committee for Children Blog

Telling Is Not Teaching


Today's blog post is by Milwaukee Public Schools psychologist Dr. Kim Gulbrandson.

Telling is not teaching

When I first began working with the Second Step program 15 years ago, my colleagues and I were so focused on completing the lessons that we completely overlooked the extension activities (these are now called daily practice activities in Second Step  4th edition). In fact, I would get excited if I finished the curriculum by January. For some reason, I thought this meant I was doing a better job than if I completed it in May or June. I often implemented two lessons per week to make sure students received all of the skill components.

I have since learned that “covering” the lessons is only a small part of the process for teaching students social-emotional skills. When I rushed through the lessons, I noticed I would become frustrated that students often didn’t remember the skills or didn’t use them in everyday situations.

The most eye-opening experience came many years later when I was involved with looking at district data on the effectiveness of the Second Step program.  I was surprised to learn that high-implementing teachers did not always show the greatest student gains in social skill knowledge and attitudes. Those who completed their lessons early in the year often showed less improvement than high implementers finishing later in the year. I later found out that even though these teachers implemented the entire curriculum, they often did not use the extension activities.

If we don’t practice skills with students in non-emotional situations, then they will not be able to use these skills when they are emotional. For example, if you are part of the Emergency Response team at your building and you are told about the procedure for this, but you never practice it and it is never referred to thereafter, what are the chances you would follow the procedure correctly during an actual emergency situation? Telling is not teaching.

Although teaching the lessons is very important, students often need additional support in order to remember the social-emotional skills and transfer them to real-life situations. They need opportunities to re-discuss the skills and to practice and apply them. Second Step extension activities encourage this, and they even allow for application within academic subject areas.

So, I have made a vow: I will not rush the lessons; I will practice and re-teach the skills; I will do extension activities! In short, I won't just tell. I will teach.