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Teaching SEL by Modeling

We are starting week 6 of distance learning in California with parents and teachers still struggling to keep up with the new normal that COVID-19 has created. Families are learning how to work, learn and be together—all the time. It is not easy. From meltdowns over math problems and increased stress over job security, to grieving loved ones, emotions are running high in most families. Is that true for you?

My latest posts provide some strategies to integrate social and emotional learning (SEL) into distance learning for teachers, and tips to talk about coronavirus to children (Spanish), and how to stay sane and connected during the shelter-in-place (Spanish). I have also delivered a couple of Facebook lives to support parents during these challenging times (English and Spanish.)

But what other SEL tools would be helpful to manage this difficult situation?

In writing Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I heard from many teachers who wanted bite-sized tools to advance their SEL practice in the classroom. Overwhelmed by the amount of SEL resources in the market, they wanted some strategies from a trustable source that they could easily incorporate in their teaching. This is why the book is full of tools that can be comfortably implemented, don’t require a lot of materials or prep, and are highly effective. This is what I call bite-sized SEL tools.

Given the large amount of resources and information made available to support learning at home, it seems more important than ever to have tools that can be easily adopted without teachers spending an enormous amount of time preparing them or parents curating long lists of resources. Well, I have good news for you—There is one thing you can always do for children: to model how to be honest and open with your emotions, and explicit when you use tools to cope with challenging feelings. While we want children to feel safe, it is important for them to know that we (adults) are also experiencing a wide array of emotions, including fear and sadness.

Adults can teach children and youth the foundations of emotional intelligence by modeling how to identify emotions, manage feelings and nurture gratitude during the day. Here are a few tools from the HEART in Mind model to get you started:

  • Honor your Emotions – make it a habit to discuss emotions with your students, or your children at home, through emotional check-ins. This can be a daily question for them to answer online or something they share during a class videoconference or “office hours.” If you are a parent (or a teacher sending activities for parents to do with their kids), make it a routine to ask your children about their feelings. It could be over breakfast, at the end of the day or when something challenging happens. Use these awesome visual pictures to make it fun (Spanish version.) If you have a bit more time to read about the importance of emotional literacy, check out this article.
  • Elect your Responses – discuss coping strategies to manage big feelings with your students. You may share a recent situation when you had to use one of these strategies. Invite students to choose one or two that they want to try and when you meet online again, ask them about it. If you are a parent (or a teacher sending activities for parents to do with their kids), post this chart in your child’s bedroom or in the kitchen (it will help adults too!). When you are having a difficult time, use one of these strategies and share it with your children. Then, when your child is experiencing big feelings, support them  to choose one of the strategies and practice it together. Over time, they will be able to use the strategy independently. Here’s the Spanish version. For more information about the importance of managing emotions, check out this post or this one.
  • Apply Empathy – this may seem like a difficult time to show empathy, since many people are having a hard time. However, being able to understand how others feel will help us to nurture a sense of gratitude for the things we do have and the people that support us. In your online meetings with students, discuss how different people are experiencing this pandemic (doctors, delivery workers, elderly people) and encourage students to name the things for which they are grateful. At home, this can be a wonderful conversation during dinner, where everybody can take a moment to feel grateful for something or someone. Print this poster and put it on your fridge to remind everybody in the family to fill their bucket with gratitude. Here’s the Spanish version. April 30 is Worldwide Day of Gratitude, honoring first line responders and health workers, you can find activities and lessons here.

Learning to be socially and emotionally capable beings is a life long process. We learn by doing. We teach by modeling.  Let me know what other tools would help you in your teaching, supporting families or helping your own kids learn at home.

Stay safe and healthy. Stay home.

P.S. And if you haven’t signed up to receive these posts in your inbox, you can do it here. I’ll be sharing more tools soon!

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