Back to School: This year we are also teaching SEL!

One of the greatest concerns for principals and teachers who want to bring Social Emotional Learning to their schools is the potential push back they might get from their staff. SEL evangelists might be afraid that teachers will perceive SEL as something else they need to teach on top of continuing the transition to the Common Core, the new writing curriculum, iPads for all students, teacher evaluation, you name it… making them feel they C-A-N-N-O-T take on anything new. Today, I’m going to discuss two strategies that you can use to introduce the importance and benefits of teaching SEL in your school without getting… well… too muddy.

1. Many teachers are already teaching SEL, even if they call it by a different name.

In my work as a consultant, I’ve been surprised to find that teachers get it much faster than I had initially anticipated. They might not call it SEL, but when asked how they organize their classroom, the kinds of activities their students engage in or their classroom management systems, they are indeed actively teaching social and emotional skills and providing students with opportunities for further development. Try this: after you introduce the desired social and emotional competencies to your team (these skills could be based on CASEL, Six Seconds, Bisquerra or others), ask teachers to think about their classroom routines, lessons and typical strategies, and have them write down those activities that address students’ competencies. You can use this simple template to have them record their responses.

During my research, teachers created an inventory of strategies and activities they used that enhance students’ social and emotional skills. These are a few examples:

  • Greetings and sharing activities during morning meeting develop students’ self-management and social awareness skills by providing children with opportunities to take turns, practice active listening and get to know each other better.
  • Student-led conferences and student data binders develop students’ self-awareness by helping children identify their strengths and challenges.
  • Behavior reflection forms developed students’ self-awareness and responsible decision making skills by providing a tool to reflect on their own feelings and actions, and brainstorm ways to avoid certain behaviors in the future.

After going through this exercise, teachers realized that they were already using many strategies that helped students develop their competencies. In their case, teaching SEL meant that they were going to incorporate explicit instruction during their morning meeting and be more strategic about integrating the language throughout the day.

2. In order to master the Common Core, students will need to use and develop their social and emotional competencies.

With the exception of teachers in a few states, most educators working in K-12 across the US are trying to figure out how to teach the CCSS effectively. Students’ understanding of intelligence, their sense of self-efficacy or their ability to persevere through complex text will determine students’ success with these more rigorous academic standards. Districts like Chicago (IL), Sacramento (CA) and Washoe (NV) are already working to help teachers make the shifts that the CCSS require with an SEL lens, by paying attention to the conditions that are necessary for this type of learning. Brown, Corrigan and Higgins-D’Alessandro (2012) strongly suggest that the learning process is 50 percent social-emotional and 50 percent cognitive, which means that SEL is necessary for better, more meaningful learning. Try this: Watch this video from the Hunt Institute with Susan Pimentel discussing the Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core with your team. Have teachers take notes of what the standards are asking students to do and the social and emotional competencies students will need to master these standards. For example, what social and emotional competencies will students need in order to work in groups, share their findings or challenge one another?

In schools, there are always new initiatives and never enough time to do everything. Introducing SEL to your colleagues might be a scary and, at times, difficult process. You can generate teachers buy-in by helping them discover that SEL is something they are probably already doing in the classroom and by emphasizing the connections between the CCSS and students’ social and emotional competencies. Go for it! Our students deserve it!

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