Task Groups in the School Setting: Promoting Children’s Social and
Patricia Van Velsor San Francisco State University
Through social and emotional learning (SEL), individuals develop skill in negotiating relationships successfully and expressing emotions appropriately. The socially and emotionally intelligent child reaps benefits in school and later life. Counselors are best qualified to promote children’s SEL and the task group in the classroom provides an excellent opportunity for them to do so. In the task group, students can learn and practice crucial skills in vivo while they work together to complete a task. The counselor’s strategic attention to promoting task completion while facilitating SEL can serve to highlight the benefits of group work in the school learning environment.
Keywords: schools; social and emotional learning; task groups
Because humans are social beings, they spend a great deal of time interacting with others and much of that interaction takes place in groups. As Sonstegard and Bitter (1998) so aptly stated, ‘‘to be human is to ‘live’ in groups’’ (p. 251). The group (e.g., family, peer) serves as the ‘‘primary socializing influence’’ in children’s development (Kulic, Horne, & Dagley, 2004) and the nature of the social environment in those groups leads children down a path toward either prosocial or antisocial behavior and beliefs (Hawkins, Smith, & Catalano, 2004).
Children develop social skills and prosocial behaviors through social and emotional learning (SEL). Although there are various defi- nitions of SEL, Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg and Walberg (2007) define it succinctly as ‘‘the process through which children enhance their ability to integrate thinking, feeling, and behaving to achieve important life tasks’’ (p. 6). Five competency areas—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible
Patricia Van Velsor, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling at San Francisco State University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Patricia Van Velsor, Department of Counseling, San Francisco State University, BH 524, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132. E-mail: email@example.com
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decision-making—are basic to negotiating school, work, and life responsibilities effectively (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2000–2009).
Social and emotional intelligence, acquired through SEL, has been associated with various positive outcomes in school and life. A socially and emotionally intelligent child is less likely to develop aggressive- ness, depression, and=or violent behaviors (Poulou, 2005). Children who develop social and emotional intelligence are also more resistant to difficulties related to drugs, teen pregnancy, and gangs (Elias et al., 1997). Moreover, variations in children’s social and emotional func- tioning significantly predict current and later academic achievement (Greenberg, Kusché, & Riggs, 2004; Parker et al., 2004).
The small group in the school setting provides an excellent opportu- nity for counselors to enhance children’s positive mental health through SEL. Children can better their social skills, unlearn inappropriate social behaviors, and try out new skills in a safe environment (Akos, Hamm, Mack, & Dunaway, 2007; Thompson & Henderson, 2006). Generally, the small group format used with chil- dren is psychoeducational (Corey & Corey, 2006) and a common approach to SEL in the schools is to pull targeted children out of the classroom to learn about appropriate skills and practice those skills in a small group. Another approach, however, is to make use of the task group, which focuses on the application of group process princi- ples to task completion (Corey & Corey, 2006). If used in the classroom setting, the task group can offer children the opportunity to learn and apply social and emotional skills and behaviors in a real life situation as they work together to accomplish an identified task. Moreover, when conducted in the classroom setting, all children can profit from the opportunity to enhance their social and emotional intelligence. The overall goal is to promote SEL for a broad range of children, which in turn can lead to other positive outcomes.
When considering the task group in the school setting, it makes sense that students could benefit in three ways. First, the task group affords children the opportunity to learn about a topic as they work together on a project of educational importance. Second, students have the chance to acquire valuable social and emotional skills for working in groups related to cooperation, collaboration, and mutual respect. Third, students may well gain a sense of accomplishment when the task is completed, hopefully bolstering self-esteem.
The purpose of this article is to encourage counselors to embrace the task group model in the classroom setting to promote the SEL of students in vivo and to help equip all students with the social and emotional tools necessary to work cooperatively and collaboratively in a group. In order to implement the task group, counselors must
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develop a clear understanding of this approach and its multiple benefits in the classroom setting. With this knowledge, counselors can then determine ways to identify appropriate tasks for school groups, and develop strategies to facilitate both task completion and group process for optimal SEL.
UNDERSTANDING THE TASK GROUP MODEL AND ITS BENEFITS
Before initiating the task group in schools, it is important to under- stand the goals of a task group. Themain goal of the group is completing a task (e.g., a work project, event planning) rather than changing the individual for therapeutic reasons or personal growth (Gladding, 2008). However, successful functioning of the task group requires attention to the principles of group dynamics aimed at accomplishing the task and improving interpersonal interaction in the process (Corey & Corey, 2006; Gladding, 2008). Although teachers may already assign tasks to small groups or make use of small group learning in the classroom, they may lack the necessary skills to facilitate SEL in the group process (Elias, Bruene-Butler, Blum, & Schuyler, 1997). Counselors, however, have training in group dynamics and process and can utilize that knowl- edge to promote SEL as children work together to complete a task.
The task group in a school is different from the typical one in an organization where each member takes responsibility and is accounta- ble for his or her own contribution to the overall effort (Katzenbach & Smith, 2003). Instead children in the schools can benefit from the task group that operates like a team. Although teams, like other task groups, focus on results and develop individual products, teams are more interdependent and more collaborative (Brown, 2009: Gladding 2008; Stanley, 2006). In the team model, there are shared leadership responsibilities and accountability for the team product; that is, the team members do ‘‘real work together’’ (Johnson & Johnson, 2009, p. 527). All students in the schools can benefit from working together and developing the abilities necessary to function as part of a team.
Because all students can profit from refining their social and emotional skills, the task group in the school does not necessarily target students with difficulties. Use of this approach is predicated on the idea that a primary goal of counseling is to help all children ‘‘learn to deal with life’’ (T. Gutkin, personal communication, December 2, 2008). Task groups are indeed a part of life; they are omnipresent in American culture and part of everyday experience (Conyne, Crowell, & Newmeyer, 2008) in schools, churches, work places, and community settings. The skills learned can help children fulfill their roles
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successfully in family, school, friend, and work groups (Goleman, 1995). Promoting SEL for all students aligns with the Executive Summary of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 2005), which directs school counselors to ‘‘identify and deliver the knowledge and skills all students should acquire’’ (p. 1). Additionally, SEL aligns with the public school’s mission to ‘‘assist in the socializa- tion of the young,’’ identified in a U. S. Supreme Court case (i.e., Wisconsin V. Yoder) (Adelman & Taylor, 2003, p. 85).
Another noteworthy benefit of the task group in the classroom is that it allows students to learn skills in vivo. Although teaching social and emotional skills is important; providing children the opportunity for ‘‘real-world application’’ of those skills is critical (Elias, 2004). During transactions to complete a task, interpersonal exchanges hap- pen naturally in the classroom, that is, authentic interaction occurs. As differences in ideas and issues related to completing the task surface and accompanying affect emerges, counselors can facilitate the interchanges quickly (Barratt & Kerman, 2001). The counselor is at hand to help children manage their emotions, effectively navigate their interactions, and successfully negotiate their differences for opti- mal SEL. For students with behavioral concerns, who may not be able to transfer skills from the counseling group to the classroom (Clark & Breman, 2009), this real world experience may be essential to their social and emotional development.
Students at risk for difficulties may benefit in other ways by culti- vating social and emotional abilities in the classroom. In a counseling group for social skill development, targeted students may have similar difficulties and inadvertently learn inappropriate behaviors from each other. In the classroom setting, however, students with less developed social and emotional skills interact with students at higher skill levels and can learn informally from the modeling of other students. Lopes and Salovey (2004) identified informal learning, where students learn behaviors through ‘‘experience, modeling, and observing’’ as a valuable way to promote SEL (p. 78).
The task group as proposed here may also serve to highlight the usefulness of group work in learning. Social factors often influence learning, because effective learning frequently involves the ability to communicate, interact, and collaborate with co-learners as well as tea- chers, peers, and families (McCombs, 2004; Zins et al., 2007). The task group offers a fertile environment for students to develop positive social relationships as they develop their academic skills. As children learn to collaborate and function interdependently in the task group, a better fit or ‘‘improved ecological concordance’’ between students and their school environment emerges, which in turn can improve student success both in and out of schools (Conyne & Mazza, 2007). Successful
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use of the task group by the counselor may then motivate teachers to adopt the small group as part of the learning environment for children.
IDENTIFYING A FOCUS FOR THE TASK GROUP
Although a significant goal in utilizing the task group is to promote social and emotional learning, it is critical for the counselor to identify a project that clearly incorporates an aspect of the school mission. For example, a project might focus on an academic goal of a particular classroom or grade level (e.g., meeting a specific curriculum objective), or a school or community goal (e.g., conducting a service learning activity).
The list of projects that could be implemented to address SEL in a task group is endless and any activity that requires student collabora- tion in a small group could work. As an example, the literature circle, a language arts activity designed to engage students in reflection and critical thinking about reading (Daniels, 2001), could provide an excel- lent opportunity for incorporating SEL; because it can be adapted for all age levels, already uses a small group format, and has been applied in both mathematics (Kridler & Moyer-Packenham, 2008) and science (Straits, 2007). In a typical model, the teacher assigns roles (e.g., facil- itator, illustrator) and has students work on their tasks independently before coming together for discussion. In the task group model, how- ever, the teacher extends the process by assigning a project. The task can be as simple as making a poster to represent the feelings of differ- ent characters in a story or as involved as creating a video to explore character identity development related to the events in the reading. The students then decide on what roles are necessary and how they need to work together to complete the task. Although schools most likely will already have designated readings within their curriculum, the counselor may want to suggest books from the Bibliotherapy Edu- cation Project (http://library.unlv.edu/faculty/research/bibliotherapy/), which offers an excellent list of books that focus on both counseling and education topics.
Counselors who have not been teachers may balk at the idea of focusing a group on an academic task; however, the counselor need not be an expert in an academic area. The teacher provides the aca- demic expertise while the counselor promotes the social and emotional development. The logistics will require close collaboration between the counselor and the teacher to create a suitable arrangement. After the task has been identified, the counselor may circulate among various task groups or work with one group at a time while the teacher works
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with the remaining students. In the task group, the counselor can serve as a co-learner while he or she weaves SEL skill development into the process and facilitates group interactions aimed at successful task completion.
Working in the classroom may represent a paradigm shift for counselors. However, it is consistent with a new ‘‘inclusion’’ model of school counseling suggested by Clark and Breman (2009). This model requires that all students receive counseling support through innova- tive interventions in classroom settings and requires counselors to col- laborate and consult closely with teachers. The task group model proposed here complements the Clark and Breman model, because it necessitates collaboration with teachers and other school personnel to identify a suitable project and involves implementation of the task group in the classroom.
The best way to identify an appropriate task is through familiarity with the school context. The school counselor who has been in the school will already have intimate knowledge of school culture, but will still need to spend time observing school activities and soliciting input from others. The counselor new to the school, on the other hand, must become well acquainted with the school environment by getting to know, first students and school personnel (e.g., teachers, administra- tors, teachers), and then parents and community members. What are the educational goals that the teachers share? What is necessary to promote the achievement of the student body? For example, if there are a large number of students living in poverty, what projects would support their unique needs—in the classroom, the school, and the community? Immersion in the culture—both school and surrounding community—allows the counselor not only to identify projects that support the school mission but also to design tasks that are sensitive to values of the population served. Service learning projects that require collaborative efforts offer excellent opportunities for addres- sing community needs and, at the same time, enhancing students’ social and emotional abilities. For example, small groups of younger students may decide on a gift appropriate for a local senior center, design the necessary steps to make their gifts, and finally, create the gifts. Older students may research community needs and then work together in small groups to design and carry out community pro- jects. Although there are a variety of websites that describe school service learning projects, one particularly comprehensive list for both elementary and secondary levels comes from Mesa Service Learning (http://www2.mpsaz.org/msl/about/).
The most important school personnel with whom to collaborate are teachers, because counselors will need their support to carve out time and space for the task group. Common complaints of teachers are that
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SEL activities take time away from an already overloaded academic schedule (Elias, Bruene-Butler, Blum, & Schuyler, 2000; Mildener & Keane, 2006). Careful selection of task group focus, however, helps sidestep the criticism that time spent on social and emotional skill development usurps valuable academic time. Rather, teachers view the task as supporting their efforts rather than auxiliary to their academic goals. At the same time, working closely with teachers in the classroom may stimulate more positive attitudes toward SEL activities and small group learning.
With a task identified, a counselor must not only assist children in completing the task, but also help them to understand the importance of the group process in task completion. Effective SEL in the task group requires that children learn cooperation, social skills, and prosocial values (Johnson & Johnson, 2004).
FACILITATING THE TASK GROUP FOR OPTIMAL SEL
A counselor facilitating a task group with children for optimal SEL must perform a variety of functions. Unfortunately, in a recent survey of 802 school counselors, many participants reported a lack of group training aimed at working with children and adolescents in the schools (Steen, Bauman, & Smith, 2008). Although the following infor- mation is not meant to substitute for group training, it does provide an overview of functions that school counselors should feel comfortable performing in order to facilitate a task group successfully for SEL. The primary functions involve fostering positive interdependence through team building and promoting interpersonal process by setting appropriate structure and bolstering skill development. The literature on process in children’s groups is scant (Leichtentritt & Shechtman, 1998; Shechtman & Yanov, 2001); however, along with the literature on task groups with adults, it provides some direction for the counselor carrying out these functions.
Building a Team
Simply assigning a task and asking children to work together does not assure that they will become a team (Prichard, Bizo, & Stratford, 2006). Therefore it is the responsibility of the counselor to incorporate ways to build group cohesiveness. In an investigation of children’s groups, child participants identified group cohesiveness— encouragement, support, and acceptance from others—as the most important factor in their group experience (Shechtman & Gluk, 2005). Thus, it is important to help children build new relationships
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or strengthen existing relationships around working on the task. So, although task completion is primary, failure to attend to relationships of students could result in negative outcomes for task completion and learning.
Students in a school may already have formed relationships; how- ever, counselors will need to develop activities focused on building interdependent relationships and identifying appropriate norms of behavior. Effective task groups devote time to learning about one another, to culture building, and to nurturing collaboration and coop- eration (Hulse-Killacky, Killacky, & Donigian, 2001). Because team building involves learning prosocial behavior, norms should include discussion of respect for others and promotion of other members’ efforts. Clear expectations for task completion and group behavior will enhance student learning related to completing the task and acquiring interpersonal skill in doing so.
Establishing Appropriate Structure
To promote SEL through the interpersonal process of the group, counselors must establish appropriate structure. Counselors can do so by attending to the developmental level of the children in the group (Rosenthal, 2005); younger children need more structure. For all chil- dren, counselors need to provide more structure early in the group’s development. Group facilitators optimize children’s experiences in groups when they provide a safe environment for children to try out behaviors (Mayerson, 2000) and the appropriate level of structure helps provide that safe space.
An ideal structure for a task group involves balancing content and process (Hulse-Killacky, Kraus, & Schumacher, 1999). The content component of a group refers to the information shared; in a task group, the counselor should make sure that all children clearly understand the purpose of the group and the goals related to the task. Addition- ally, the counselor should pay attention to the content that children share to get a sense of each child’s strengths and how he or she can contribute to task completion. Too much attention to content in a task group, however, may actually interfere with progress toward complet- ing the task (Hulse-Killacky et al., 1999). The process component of a task group deserves equal attention. Yalom (2002) defines process as, ‘‘the nature of the relationship between the people in the interaction’’ (p. 109). As it applies to the task group, process refers to the relation- ships between and among children and how those relationships promote or inhibit task completion. By attending to the process, coun- selors can make sure that all children share their ideas, experiences, and thoughts and contribute to accomplishing the task.
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In a successful group, the counselor does not attend to the process alone; he or she makes sure that participants also attend to that pro- cess. From the onset of the group, the counselor structures a reflective environment in which children evaluate the interactions and dynamics of the group (Barratt & Kerman, 2001). The counselor fre- quently encourages children to examine their relationships to identify how well they are working together and how they can better their effectiveness (Johnson & Johnson, 2009).
Although structure is essential to group work with children, facili- tators can best promote children’s SEL by knowing when to allow free- dom within the structure. An important value of group work—that it reflects real life most accurately (Akos, 2000)—is lost if a group is too structured. A challenge is finding the balance between permissiveness and appropriate structure and limits. In an exploratory study of dynamics in children’s therapy groups, Mayerson (2000) found that facilitators’ willingness to join the play process, when appropriate, contributed to positive outcomes. Applying this to the task group, a counselor must be flexible and fluid in stepping forward to take the leadership role and stepping back to let the children lead. Johnson and Johnson (2009) maintain that facilitators must decide when to direct the children’s group, be ‘‘a sage on the stage,’’ or to be their assistant, ‘‘a guide on the side’’ (p. 497). Children can lead their own group when they have developed the ability to reflect on their indivi- dual and group behaviors and the skills necessary for working with others.
Bolstering Skill Development
Important for the task group is development of skill in giving feed- back, making decisions together, and solving problems and resolving conflict. The ability to give constructive feedback sets the stage for the other skills. In a task group, timely feedback fosters team develop- ment; because it increases member motivation and provides data to help members work together effectively (Birmingham & McCord, 2004). In a study of interpretative responses—confrontation, interpre- tation, and feedback—of preadolescents in groups, Shechtman and Yanov (2001) found that high quality feedback (i.e., direct and honest personal reaction) precipitated productive responses (i.e., exploration, insight, or change) while high quality interpretation (supportive explanation of one’s behavior, feelings, or thoughts) or confrontation (highlighting incongruencies) precipitated unproductive responses (e.g., resistance, agreement). The authors concluded that minimizing confrontation and maximizing high-quality feedback was most helpful in group work with children.
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The challenge in the task group lies in helping children learn to give constructive feedback (i.e., direct and honest personal reaction) that supports task completion. This begins with counselor modeling; simply by listening, paraphrasing, asking open questions, that is, using basic counseling skills, counselors provide a positive example for children and promote SEL. In using these skills, it is important that counselors attend to the age of the children in the group to adapt those skills appropriately (see Van Velsor, 2004). If children learn these skills, they help to create a safe environment and set the stage for giving con- structive feedback to each other related to task completion. Drawing from several task group models, Hulse-Killacky et al. (1999) suggest that members create guidelines for giving and receiving feedback, reflect on behaviors and interactions that support or inhibit the group work, and give clear feedback (i.e., using ‘‘I’’ statements, speaking directly to others). Initially the counselor will model and direct appro- priate communications, but children should eventually learn to provide their own feedback. According to Sonstegard and Bitter (1998), accurate feedback from children may facilitate the group pro- cess better than feedback from counselors.
Along with communication skills, children need to develop the abilities necessary for decision making in task groups. Because good decision making depends on effective processing of emotions (Bechara, Damasio, & Bar-On, 2007), an important step is helping children to develop skill in monitoring emotions that arise when differences occur. In the task group, counselors can guide children in regulating their emotional reactions and applying self-control in interpersonal communication. Regulating emotion and gaining control gives chil- dren access to the clear thinking needed for problem solving (Elias, 2004). Johnson and Johnson (1995) identified a helpful process for problem-solving negotiation, in which children (a) describe what they want and feel along with the rationale for those, (b) listen and commu- nicate understanding of other children’s perspectives, (c) formulate three optional plans, and (d) select a plan from those options. This model provides the opportunity for children to practice perspective- taking, which is foundational to the development of empathy (Shapiro, 1997).
When problem solving among children breaks down and conflict arises, the counselor will need to serve as mediator allowing time for cooling off as necessary, ensuring commitment to mediation, and guid- ing children through the problem-solving process (Johnson & Johnson, 1995). Formalizing the agreement (e.g., with a handshake) is part of both problem solving and conflict resolution procedures.
Once counselors have provided strategies for decision making, problem-solving, and conflict resolution, they must decide when to
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let children direct the process and when they need to intercede. Some group facilitators may tend to intervene quickly in any disputes, conflict, or disagreement among children (Rosenthal, 2005) denying them the experience of solving issues on their own, and in turn inhibit- ing their SEL from the process. On the other hand, an environment that encourages creative and collaborative decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution by children promotes their optimal social and emotional development.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Designing a task group for the classroom will require considerable collaborative planning to identify what works with which students based on academic learning objectives as well as student developmen- tal level and culture. The counselor, in collaboration with the teacher, must decide how much advance psychoeducation the students will need related to decision making, problem solving, and conflict. It is always best to discuss conflict resolution procedures before a heated emotional situation arises.
Implementation would typically begin with a teacher describing an academic assignment. Using the literature circle example, the teacher asks students to rank a list of stories or books based on their interests. The teacher divides students into small groups determined by their choices and, after students have read the literature, they discuss their reactions to and understandings of the reading. Next, the teacher assigns a task for the group focused on student discussion. The scope of the task (e.g., a map of the events of the story, a presentation on the themes in the book) will depend on the age of the students and the teacher’s learning objectives. This assigned task could take place during one class period or over the course of several weeks.
As students begin work on the task in their small groups, the coun- selor’s expertise is tapped. If students are new to teamwork, the coun- selor conducts team building exercises and explains how students must attend to the process as they complete their task. Schmuck and Schmuck (2001) provide some simple process observation sheets for younger students, which could be adapted in various ways for many ages. These questionnaires ask students to identify specific instances of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors evident in the group and promote student analysis of their own experiences and actions (SEL self-awareness competency) and those of others (SEL social awareness competency). The observation sheets serve as stimuli for discussion on group process as students work on their project, and, in turn, the discussion serves as a learning ground for students as
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counselors help them give constructive feedback to each other (SEL relationship skill competency).
Eventually, disagreements will arise in some groups over procedures, goals, and relationships (Schmuck & Schmuck, 2001), and such controversies offer, perhaps, the most valuable opportunities for SEL. When students are involved in a passionate discussion that appears to have the potential for escalation, the counselor must decide when, and if, to step in and what intervention might facilitate optimal SEL. Early in a disagreement, the counselor may ask students to listen to each other and then verbalize the opposing perspective, promoting student empathy and sensitivity to others (SEL social awareness competency). If emotions are already heightened, the coun- selor may direct the students to self-monitor and share their feelings related to the interaction before tackling a problem solving procedure. This helps students to accurately assess their feelings (SEL self- awareness competency) and to regulate their emotions (SEL self- management competency). As students become more skilled in decision making and problem solving, the counselor may need only to refer students to the steps of these processes.
There, of course, will be times when conflict arises and students need a cooling off period. In facilitating student cool down, the counse- lor must use a course of action that works harmoniously with the tea- cher’s approach to de-escalation. When students have regained their self-control sufficiently, the counselor secures the commitment of all group members to the negotiation process, leads students through pro- blem solving steps, and helps students formalize their agreement (Johnson & Johnson, 1995). Students in the group can practice a wealth of SEL competencies, and the counselor is on-hand to facilitate the learning process. At the same time, the counselor can serve as a model and consultant to the teacher, who may want to use small groups for cooperative learning at times when the counselor is not pre- sent. The overall goal is to encourage teachers to reinforce student use of SEL skills and attitudes throughout the day as well as in and out of the classroom.
Counselors in the schools are already aware of the connection between social and emotional learning and positive outcomes in school and life. Individuals need social and emotional skills for achieving academic and workplace success and becoming informed and responsi- ble community members (Elias, Arnold, & Hussey, 2003). Counselors’ efforts to promote social and emotional learning (SEL) for all students,
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however, are often thwarted by the view of other school personnel that SEL intrudes on the academic mission of the school. The task group proposed unites educational aims with SEL objectives. It transcends the psychoeducational group approach, which tends to focus on cogni- tive behavioral strategies and problem solving, and the counseling group approach, which tends to focus on affect; the task group offers an integrative approach. The counselor facilitates completion of an educational task, and, at the same time, facilitates social and emo- tional skill development in the task completion process. This task group model has benefits for all students and allows students to learn social and emotional skills from each other and practice them in vivo.
A challenging aspect of the task group model is the need for counse- lors to identify and design a task through collaboration with stake- holders. Teachers’ input in this process is crucial because of their knowledge and needed cooperation. However, as counselors become more practiced in the task group, input by other stakeholders (e.g., parents, community members) provides an opportunity to strengthen school-community connections to enhance the social and emotional development of children beyond the school.
Once a counselor has identified a task, he or she can best promote task completion and enhance student SEL through team building, appropriate structure, and skill development. Students can learn the skills of giving feedback, offering empathy, making decisions, and solving problems along with managing emotions and negotiating conflict—skills necessary throughout life for working together coop- eratively and collaboratively to complete a task.
Use of the task group by counselors in the schools, however, requires somewhat of a paradigm shift. Counselors typically focus on a small percentage of students with difficulties or at risk for difficul- ties, and offer group counseling to these students on a pull out basis (i.e., taking students out of class) (Clark & Breman, 2009). The task group is not meant to preclude the counseling group; there will always be a need for groups focused on topics such as divorce and grief. However, the task group in the classroom has potential for use with all students, rather than only a small percentage of them; for promoting the use of the small group in learning; and, perhaps, for repositioning the counselor in a role more central to the school’s educational mission.
Moving from working with a small percentage of students to work- ing with the broader student body will prove challenging. However, counselors can expand their sphere of influence in promoting SEL by training teachers in group process strategies for use in classroom groups. Some teachers are already schooled in cooperative learning and may need only minimal training in group process. Other teachers
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may need more extensive training to first understand the value of group work in education and then to learn how to effectively facilitate children’s group process in the classroom. Counselors may begin this process by first working with teachers who are already using groups and cooperative learning. Then, by making their efforts known throughout the school, they can engage other teachers who may be skeptical of the importance of group work and SEL in education.
Counseling in schools is often relegated to the status of an ancillary service (ASCA, 2003) and SEL is sometimes viewed as intruding on the current responsibility of schools for student performance on test- ing and standards (Mildener & Keane, 2006). Small groups in the classroom, and task groups in particular, have great potential for enhancing the learning environment in schools. Counselors with training in group process are in an excellent position to promote task group work specifically, and small group work in general, as an inte- gral part of the school educational mission. The goal for counselors is to enhance student social and emotional development by weaving SEL and small group work into the fabric of the school. The ultimate goal is to provide students with the social and emotional skills neces- sary for success during their school years and beyond.
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