Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a concept that is getting a lot of attention at the moment. With little time for the many things competing for a teacher’s attention, it might feel like one more piece of jargon in a cup of acronym soup! But before you dismiss these buzzwords, pause to consider their importance and a few ways to make their power and potential student outcomes more accessible and effective.
As humans, we are faced with countless daily stimuli begging to be recognized. As educators, it is in our best interest to add opportunities for our students to identify things like self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. Students need these skills to manage these stimuli, develop and maintain a sense of wellbeing, and support their academic achievement. Without these skills, everything becomes harder.
A few years ago I built a practice of mindfulness into my math classroom. I wanted to find a way to lower anxiety before tests and help students make better transitions in and out of class by re-centering (especially after lunch!). Integrating these skills into my classes at authentic moments made them more relevant and effective.
It also made their implementation more sustainable as I didn’t have the time to directly teach them on their own. I encouraged students to become more aware of how they were feeling and to practice these skills when they found themselves in other classes amped up before an assessment or after having a disagreement with a friend.
Students see greater importance and value in an activity their teacher participates in. The mindfulness breaks to lower stress and re-center were well received by most of my students, especially when I practiced alongside them. I remember back to the days of my own schooling when I did “Drop Everything and Read.” The teachers who also did their own reading modeled the expectation and made me value the practice more. An additional benefit is that teachers who practice what they ask their students to do are also stronger facilitators, being able to walk-the-walk. There is always an email to respond to or a late paper to grade. Stopping and making time to practice alongside students is worth it though to increase buy-in and impact.
Asking students to complete a rubric at the end of a task or project takes on a whole other level when you ask students to reflect on their skill level when it comes to being aware of oneself and being able to manage oneself. Let’s be honest! This is a tough one, but with practice and the use of kid-friendly language for what self-awareness and self-management look like, sounds like, and feels like students will identify their areas of strength and areas that need improvement.
I have found these types of reflections to be most powerful when asking students to reflect throughout a collaborative project because students are asked to really look at just him/herself in the group setting and being able to recognize how they can contribute more effectively with his/her members.
A recent example of for me of integrating SEL for impact is GiveThx. The teacher builds the community (whether it be one section or a larger group of students) who are then able to connect with one another via GiveThx to send messages of gratitude to one another. It’s important that students know, understand, and feel that gratitude is more than saying “thanks” or “thank you.” I remind my students that each time they send a message, they are to be specific in what action they witnessed or were a recipient of and to share how it makes them feel. Students tag each message they send with a descriptor that serves as a quick peer acknowledgment of positive behavior.
Using GiveThx in both whole group and small group settings allow for me to ensure each student will receive at least one note of thanks each time. My students get excited when I tell them we are about to send a “wave of thanks” to a classmate using a random name picker online! I make sure that each day we GiveThx, I stop and send messages to at least 3 students who are in the room.
It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch when looking to help your students improve on their own SEL skill set! Have students set goals, monitor progress, and celebrate their successes! Obviously, this looks different in each classroom and/or content area, but encourage students to share with you goals they have for outside of the academic setting. Opening this window for your students shows them that you see them for more than a student in your classroom but as a human who has other interests and goals outside of the school day.
I firmly believe we teachers must model and practice social-emotional learning with our students if we are going to increase the stickiness of SEL outcomes, particularly when our students move on to the next grade level or phase of their lives. Our students need these opportunities to develop these skills for their wellbeing and achievement. While teachers already have a ton to do, integrating these practices into the work we’re already doing can make them more doable and effective and is a great way to start.
Start now! Check out this collection of resources Jennifer put together.
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