The Social-Emotional Skill of Perspective Taking

Social-emotional learning shows real staying power in our schools and classrooms, and social-emotional skills can be taught. One core social-emotional skill is social perspective taking, the capacity to make sense of others’ thoughts and feelings. These are the straightforward messages of Dr. Hunter Gehlbach’s article, “Learning to Walk in Another’s Shoes,” recently published in Phi Delta Kappan and profiled in the Marshall MemoIn the article, Professor Gehlbach (University of California, Santa Barbara and Director of Research at Panorama Education) outlines three actionable priorities for teaching students the social-emotional skill of social perspective taking.

Learning to walk in another's shoes

Dr. Hunter Gehlbach’s recent article in Phi Delta Kappan

“Right now, the concept of social-emotional learning is generating tremendous energy and enthusiasm among many school leaders,” Hunter Gehlbach notes. Educators have seen that sometimes buzz accompanies a fad. But that’s not what we’re looking at with social-emotional learning. Instead, “Unlike a host of other reform movements that have come and gone, SEL shows real staying power.”

Social-emotional learning is a term that refers to a complex range of skills, dispositions, and attitudes. From his research and reading of the literature, Hunter finds one skill at the core of social-emotional learning: social perspective taking. The good news for educators is that this central social-emotional skill is teachable. “Learning to Walk in Another’s Shoes” lays out priorities and examples for teaching and practicing social perspective taking in the classroom.

“When we drill down to the core of what makes us social animals, we find a specific human capacity — the ability to discern other people’s thoughts and feelings — that is entirely teachable.”

Bringing a Core Social-Emotional Skill into the Classroom

Before he was a professor and research director at Panorama, Hunter taught social studies. Combining his research perspective with his classroom practice, he suggests three priorities for teaching social perspective taking:

#1 – Ask for Multiple Perspectives

Make it a new social norm in your school or classroom to regularly read and explore others’ perspectives during classroom discussions. Work with students to present the “other side” of an issue and to restate each other’s points before responding to them.

#2 – Encourage Students to Be Social Detectives, Not Judges

It may be easy to make judgments, but we can teach students to hold off on judging others and instead investigate reasons for others’ positions or actions. In the full article, Hunter provides simple prompts teachers can use with students in the classroom.

#3 – Provide Opportunities for Feedback as Students Learn to Read Others’ Perspectives

With simple prediction exercises, we can ask students to practice taking a classmate’s perspective, and then check how well they did. Hunter advises, “It is critically important to put young people in situations where it’s OK to make mistakes and receive feedback that might otherwise be elusive.”

Read the whole article from Phi Delta Kappan, and follow us on Twitter @Panoramaed.

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