Making SEL Visible

When educators present students with a new unit or project, they often explain to students what they will be learning. As we were taught in teacher preparation, it is very important to have clear, explicit and measurable objectives for our lessons. Generally, teachers also explain how students will be learning this content (through hands-on activities, searching the internet or doing a group presentation.) Something that is rarely shared with students is the social and emotional competencies that they’ll need in order to learn; in other words, the skills that will make it possible for them to perform the proposed tasks (the how) in order to reach the learning objective (the what).

Why don’t we explicitly tell students the social and emotional skills they’ll be using when engaged in academic work? You might argue that students are always practicing their social and emotional skills. You’re probably right! However, educators should explicitly tell students the key skills involved in a task to build their awareness and make these skills concrete. It also provides an opportunity to discuss what we do when faced with a challenge (related to the learning task or to something outside of the physical or virtual classroom.) For more information about the types of emotions originated in class, check out this earlier post.

For example, if students are participating in a classroom discussion about a literary text, you could emphasize that they will be practicing their HEART skills by:

  • Regulating their emotions and waiting for their turn.
  • Actively listening to others and trying to understand their opinions.
  • Working cooperatively.

You can decide which social and emotional skill(s) you’d like to emphasize for a particular lesson and/or activity. It will depend on your learning goal, the content itself and your classroom culture. The key is to explicitly share this information with your students, so they start seeing how their social and emotional skills support their academic engagement and learning. 

Here’s a suggested process:

1. Explicitly share the social and emotional competencies students will need to use in order to access and learn the academic content you are trying to teach. When you introduce a new unit, lesson or activity share with students the social and emotional skills they will be practicing, along with the academic goals. 

2. Gather evidence. During the activity, observe students’ use of these social and emotional skills. In a virtual learning environment, you can ask students to assign an observer when they are in breakout rooms. Are they practicing these skills consistently? Are there any additional HEART skills that would further support their success with the task at hand? Write down a couple of examples, so you can share them with your students and help them reflect on how these skills support their academic growth.

3. Reflect. During your closing activity, ask students to reflect not only on their academic goals, but also on the use of their social and emotional skills. Did they notice anything new or different about themselves or others? Were they able to put these skills into practice? What did they learn? What roadblocks did they encounter? After students share their thoughts, tell them about what you observed. Close by requesting suggestions for additional practice and congratulating them for a job well done.

Make SEL visible by explicitly naming the HEART skills involved in learning. Help students to recognize and practice them, so they become part of students’ habits in the classroom, and beyond.


Equity Centered SEL

Based on popular demand, I will be sharing one resource that can help you center your SEL work in equity in each post. While the 3 bridges to an equity centered SEL can be a starting point to understand the necessary shifts, the work is complex and we will need to pull as many resources as possible to make this work happen.

In this powerful article, Dr. Dena Simmons reminds us that the work to dismantle systemic anti-racism is not done and provides guidance for continuing this essential work in the U.S.


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By |Published On: December 8th, 2020|Categories: Common Core, SEL, Teaching Strategies|Tags: , , |

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