3 Strategies to Boost Your SEL Impact

There is a light that shines brighter from the renewed hope and optimism that the start of a new year brings.

If you spent some time in self-reflection over the past few weeks, you may have found new meaning in past experiences or been able to let go of those things that don’t serve you well.

The beginning of a new year not only brings an opportunity to look back, but it is also an invitation to imagine the future and create new pathways to engage with life in more purposeful and caring ways.

As I reflect on what we were able to accomplish in 2022, I am filled with gratitude for all the work that went into supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of our learning communities. However, the work is not done. Looking forward, I believe that we can strengthen the sustainability and impact of our SEL initiatives around the world this year. I have some ideas and suggestions!

While every classroom, school and district is different, with various SEL strengths and needs, there are three areas that can increase the breadth and depth of your SEL implementation efforts:

1. Focus on SEL integration with academics.

In my experience, the explicit instruction part of the SEL implementation process is generally a prime concern and a well thought-out plan by those who make budgetary and instructional decisions. The part that does not receive that much attention is the infusion of SEL with academics.

At its core, integrating SEL with academics means that educators use a variety of tools to make learning more meaningful and engaging for students.

To make this happen, teachers have a secret weapon–lesson planning! Teachers spend a good amount of time planning with their teams, looking for visual resources, creating rubrics, and setting up classroom projects. Let’s use the time teachers are already spending on lessons to make sure HEART skills are clearly articulated and infused in the lesson plan. Not sure how to do it?

Chapter 7 in Teaching with the HEART in Mind outlines a simple 3-step process that you can learn and teach to others. Don’t have a copy of the book yet? You can get it here.

Looking for a handout that you can share with your staff? Head over the HEART in Mind resources section and download “3 Steps to Infuse SEL into Academics”.

If this is a topic of interest to you and your staff, please let me know as I am considering doing a webinar focused on how to do this integration effectively.

2. Plan for continuous adult SEL development and support.

When schools and districts consider implementing SEL programs and practices, it opens the door for (sometimes difficult) conversations about what it means to educate with the heart in mind. If you have been following this blog, you know that in order for adults to create supportive learning environments for students, they also need to feel safe and supported. 

Many districts are still struggling to figure out how to support adults effectively given the current context of teacher burnout and staff shortages; sometimes the actions taken are superficial, not related to teacher needs or they don’t really address the very reasons educators are feeling burnout. While educator wellbeing is not an individual responsibility, and there are changes at the system level that need to take place, we cannot do this work effectively without supporting educators to strengthen their SEL skills.

Growing Your HEART Skills can be a useful tool for you and your colleagues to increase the social and emotional tools in your toolbox. It is asynchronous, straightforward and applicable to educators around the globe. Reach out if you are interested in bringing this online course to your school or district. 

3. Increase student participation and voice.

Our current educational system is not focused on encouraging students to act on the problems they see and experience in their communities or in cultivating a sense of purpose. Increasingly, the system is focused on individual performance and achievement, with the promise that once students get into college they will be able to engage in activities or topics of their interest. For some students, this means years waiting to do something that stirs their imagination! How can we change this?

This work starts with believing that students themselves have important ideas about how their schools could better support them. In the HEART in Mind model, the last competency is Transform with Purpose. This is where students’ voices are elevated and where educators and students can partner to bring about change to improve their communities.

  • Start by creating a tool for students to provide feedback. You could use a simple survey or an exit ticket to ask students about their experience in your classroom and how they see themselves contributing to the classroom, school and community.
  • Ask students about their interests and passions, and use this information to select which topics you bring into the classroom and how you ask students to engage with academic content.
  • Offer students opportunities to not only share their opinions, but also participate in making decisions about their learning and involvement in school.

Not sure how to do it? In chapter 5 of Teaching with the HEART in Mind, you will find many suggestions for how you can increase students’ participation and voice in the classroom through the last HEART skill, Transform with Purpose.

The start of the new year brings an opportunity for educators to strengthen their SEL implementation efforts and boost its impact. Focusing on SEL integration with academics through lesson planning, supporting adult SEL skills on a regular basis and increasing the level and quality of student participation and voice in your classroom are strategies that can help you increase the effectiveness of your SEL intervention and provide you with opportunities for further connection with yourself and your students.

Here’s to a purposeful SEL year!

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