Dr. Patricia "Tish" Jennings is an associate professor of Education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. A lead researcher with the Compassionate Schools Project, she is particularly focused on applying recent findings on mindfulness-based approaches to reducing teacher and student stress and improving teaching and learning environments. The views expressed here are solely the author's.
This powerful moment is just the beginning, paving the way for the March for our Lives later this month and other local movements that may finally compel action on this critical issue. How are these students making such an impact? They are driven by compassion and empathy for the victims, and their passion to protect others from similar tragedies.
While many of the students who walked out on Wednesday may not have had the benefit of formal social-emotional learning, or SEL -- a process that, for 30 years, has enabled children and adults to build better relationships, in their classrooms -- the success of their efforts is providing a persuasive argument for why more formal development of these skills is important.
Compassion. Relationship-building skills. Establishing achievable goals. These are the building blocks of social-emotional learning. I have worked for many years with other educators and researchers across the country to embed explicit opportunities into curricula to ensure our nation's youth learn empathy, mindfulness and compassion.
When our youth confront problems, SEL ensures they can understand the perspectives of all those involved and work in collaborative teams to find a solution. SEL gives them tools to clearly articulate and translate policy recommendations into meaningful change.
Students across the country are doing just that right now, leveraging those building blocks to organize and galvanize adults to action. However, SEL doesn't just have to apply on the national stage. It is making a significant difference in our local classrooms.
Teachers in Luhr Elementary School, for example, are creating "compassion classrooms" that focus on empowering students to identify and manage their emotions and listen to others' perspectives. Students at McFerran Preparatory Academy are learning how to "calm down and focus," using mindfulness activities such as partner practices to help them empathize and work through problems with their peers.
Local educators are noting how impactful the program is for participating students, who report an increased ability to manage their emotions, higher levels of compassion, and a greater attention to mindfulness.
The students who walked out Wednesday are scaling their impact through the ability to build productive relationships with peers and adults across their schools, regions and the country. And they are moving the needle on sensible gun control reform. The result is transformative, one in full display as they took one step closer to achieving the reform that has eluded so many before them.