3 Social-Emotional Learning Reminders for Teachers
There is no better time to engage in SEL.
Social emotional learning (SEL) is all the rage right now—and rightly so. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social emotional learning as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” There may be no better time than right now for SEL to come to the forefront; because the social emotional landscape is currently so difficult due to the pandemic, widespread use of different education models like hybrid education, political unrest, seemingly inescapable social media stress, just to name a few factors this year has brought.
With so many stressors on our students and families, now more than ever we need everyone—not just school counselors—to engage students with social emotional learning techniques. Here are 3 ways teachers in particular can do that.
Build relationships at the door—virtual or otherwise.
We have known for some time that empirical evidence supports the fact that the relationship between teachers and students is a key contributor to student achievement. Not only that, it’s simply the right thing to do.
A 2018 study, cited in the thorough and practical new book Social Emotional Learning and the Brain: Strategies to Help Your Students Thrive, stated that simply greeting students at the classroom door reduces disruptive behavior and increases student achievement. The study recommended calling students by their names, maintaining eye contact, using “a friendly nonverbal greeting,” encouraging students, and asking them how their day is going when greeting them at the door.
Although the book also reiterates the conventional wisdom that educators must focus on “Maslow before Bloom!”, it is important to note that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has faced several credible challenges over the years, particularly the order in which the hierarchy is set up. In fact, this research may indicate that students can indeed engage in higher-level thinking if they are, say, tired or hungry, if other areas of need throughout the hierarchy are being met by caring adults at school. I tend to think about Maslow’s needs as more of an interconnected web than a hierarchy. Greeting students at the door isn’t the same as providing them with breakfast
or putting warm clothes on their backs, but it does address a huge part of the overall web of support: love, belonging, and respect/esteem.
In a Hybrid Education model, greeting students may take on an even higher level of importance, especially when students are either fully or partially online. It takes a little more effort, but you can greet in-person students at the door and online students as they join your classroom space or video conference via your learning management system (LMS). Your virtual students and your in-person students must all feel that they are equal in your eyes. Simply greeting them when they enter the classroom environment goes a long way toward making that happen.
Develop a collaborative classroom culture and climate.
SEL is not something done solely by the teacher. Social emotional learning should be a collaborative enterprise built with the full participation of students, and perhaps their families, too!
At the beginning of the year, teachers should set aside time to discuss not only their expectations for the class, but also to solicit expectations from students. Students, at any level, should be a part of developing a classroom contract. Coming up with collaborative expectations for rules, norms, and procedures for when those rules and norms are violated, is an exercise in developing social skills, teamwork, peer relationships, and a general public spirit—all key facets of social emotional learning.
This collaborative spirit especially applies when students are expected to work together. Teachers can develop group learning expectations with students, have students complete self-assessments insofar as their readiness to engage in effective group work, ensure that students are accountable both to themselves as well as the group at large, and more.
Embed SEL concepts directly into the content.
One key to help teachers embrace social emotional learning in the classroom is to help them understand that SEL doesn’t have to come at the expense of teaching content area knowledge, especially at the secondary level, where content can really serve as a great entry point into SEL knowledge and skills.
For example, let’s say you’re a high school history teacher. You’re feeling the pressure of an end-of-year, high-stakes test attached to your content area. You don’t feel you have a lot of time to directly teach empathy with so much content to cover. You are already trying to model empathy in your interactions with students and have developed a classroom culture where the expectation is that students also demonstrate empathy toward one another. How can you embed empathy into your content while maintaining course pacing?
The good news is that there are lots of ways to accomplish this. For example, students could assume the personality of a soldier anticipating the landing at Normandy or serving in the
trenches in World War I in a journal entry or make an argument on both sides of the decision to drop the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. When learning about the explosion of music, art, and culture that took place during the Harlem Renaissance, the class could reflect on and discuss the feelings of the artists (Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas, Louis Armstrong, and so many more) that may have driven their work and the messages they were trying to convey.
These are all critical curriculum topics (D-Day, trench warfare, the Harlem Renaissance) in U.S. History, and empathy (as well as all other SEL skills) can be baked into the content in various ways. Additionally, all of these empathetic exercises can be completed in an online learning environment, through assignments, discussion boards, or synchronous discussions on your learning management system.
There are so many ways to incorporate SEL.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list. There are so many SEL tips, lessons, and activities out there that it can seem overwhelming. You don’t have to incorporate all of them at once. Start by modeling a sense of respect and care for all students, then embed SEL best practices throughout all aspects of your classroom, from procedures to content. Use the power of your learning management system to provide SEL-laden experiences for all students, whether online or in-person. Watch your classroom come alive with the collaborative, respectful spirit that is the true strength of the educational experience.