When I pick up my daughter from school, I often ask her these questions: What made you laugh? Who did you help? Were you brave today? Her answers give me insights into how her day went, what she enjoyed doing and how she felt at school. She doesn’t always want to talk about how school went, but it is important for me as a parent to initiate that conversation and create the time for us to check-in. Sometimes she will ask back, how was your day Mom? And that gives me a chance to tell her about what I do when she is at school. My hope is that I am building a space where she can feel safe talking about the silly moments, and also the challenges that she will inevitably encounter. Since this is her first year in elementary school, I’d like to support her in navigating this new environment. Her teacher is great at communicating any social and emotional challenges, and has given us ideas for things we can do at home based on her observations. We greatly appreciate you Ms. B!
Most educators who value the whole child would like parents to be partners in growing the minds and hearts of their students. They’d like parents to reinforce at home the social and emotional skills they nurture in the classroom. The reality is that most parents want the same thing! But they need a little guidance from teachers about what is being done in the classroom and how they can support their children at home. In an ideal world, schools would have a parent education program where parents would come together and discuss real-life situations, brainstorm best ways to handle them, practice the skills educators are teaching in the classroom, and… the list could go on! Unfortunately, many schools don’t have a fully developed parent education program, but that shouldn’t stop teachers from building a connection with parents.
There are several things you can do to get your parents on board with your SEL program and practices. Here are some ideas:
- Include your SEL focus or standard in your regular communication with parents. For example, if you send a monthly calendar home, include your SEL goals and the competencies you’ll be addressing with students. Include one or two activities well loved by students that they can practice with their parents.
- Highlight students’ use of social and emotional skills when you meet with parents, in addition to providing updates on their academic growth. Having a conversation with families about students’ competencies will show them that this content is part of your classroom. It will also give you an opportunity to learn about parents’ approach and how they talk to their kids about these skills.
- Celebrate students’ social and emotional growth and let parents know about it. Human beings tend to focus on those things that need to be improved, and sometimes we forget that there is so much we have already accomplished! Let parents know when you see their child develop socially and emotionally. Are they better able to handle a conflict with a peer? Have they reduced visits to the office? Can they let somebody else lead a group? Parents love to know that their child is improving!
- Provide parents with resources to help them with challenges typical of their child’s age group. If you have taught the same age group for a while, you can probably anticipate the social and emotional issues that students will need to navigate during the school year. What about supporting parents with these common challenges, so they can be more effective at home? For example, many students pushback when parents try to help them with homework. Is there anything you can provide parents to make it easier (or less painful!)?
- Model and keep an open communication with parents. As we’ve seen in other posts, we need to model the skills we want our students to develop. That is also true for working with parents, even when we have difficult conversations! Use your empathy skills and optimism, enlist parents to help you, and be open to their support.
Having a strong home-school connection yields many benefits for teachers, parents, and students. When it comes to the social and emotional development of students, educators can “take SEL home” by communicating with parents about the classroom’s SEL goals and focus competencies, celebrating and discussing students’ social and emotional growth with families and providing resources, whenever possible, so parents can be more effective. Try these strategies and let me know how it goes! And if you have different ones, please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
After several months into the school year, you might find that you have established positive relationships with most of your students… but maybe not all of them. Although, as educators, we care deeply about our students, there are certain relationships that may be more challenging and require a bit more work. In my experience, there is one ingredient that allows for honest communication, a sense of respect towards each other, maybe even a shared purpose. Do you know what it is? It’s trust. Trust is at the heart of any successful relationship.
Creating a classroom where teachers trust students (and the other way around!) has many benefits: students are more likely to improve their academic performance, more willing to follow class rules and more likely to engage with the content and ask questions. In addition, there are several studies that show how when teachers trust their students, their pedagogy changes. For example, teachers share more control of the classroom with students or are more likely to engage in constructivist practices or differentiate instruction. Teachers’ trust in students also plays a crucial role in students’ social integration and sense of belonging in school. But… what is trust? And how can we give and earn trust?
Trust is something that you feel; it is an emotion, a basic human signal that helps us survive and thrive. When we don’t trust a person, our emotion is signaling “this is not okay”, which might take us to disengage, ignore the person or fight back. Try to remember a boss or a colleague that you didn’t trust. Were you able to fully express yourself? Did you feel safe in the relationship? Did this person trust you back? The answer to these questions is probably no. Trust is reciprocal and also contagious. If you don’t trust your students, you’ll rarely gain trust FROM them, and the other way around. If a student doesn’t trust you, you will probably have a hard time trusting him or her. But don’t worry, there are things that you can do to break this cycle!
Strategies to Earn Your Students Trust
- Be Honest. The way you show up in class affects your students’ emotions and their disposition to learn. If you are upset or stressed, your students will be too. Remember when we talked about Teaching is an Emotional Practice? Emotions are contagious. Being honest also means avoiding gaps between what you say and what your students perceive. Check for understanding, and when you commit to do something with/for your students, do it!
- Be Coherent. Model the behavior you hope your students display in class. Check your goals, classroom routines and assignments: are they aligned? If you want students to show initiative, make it possible for students to make choices about how they learn. If you encourage students to provide feedback, do something with it! Being coherent means that you are consistent (in your expectations, classroom structures, etc.) and reliable, you’ll do what you say you’ll do.
- Treat ALL students as people. You can foster genuine connections when you show students that you care. The emphasis here is not in caring (which I know you do!), but in showing Have you recently had a non-school related chat with students that display challenging behaviors? Those informal conversations can go a long way in your efforts to give and earn your students’ trust. Celebrate students’ accomplishments (big and small) and persevere in getting to know them. Show care without conditions: everybody gets it just by being in your classroom.
- Trust Yourself. Trust starts with you! In order to trust your students, you need to trust yourself first. Even when you make mistakes or things don’t go as you had planned, show yourself some compassion. Have faith in yourself.
Trust is at the heart of any successful relationships and a key ingredient for positive learning environments. Trust is both given and earned: we need to trust our students, so they can trust us. Be honest and coherent, and treat all your students as people. Have faith that whatever small step you take to improve trust in your classroom, your students will greatly benefit from it.
I’m heading to Spain this summer to visit my family (short trip to Portugal to attend the 6th International Congress on Emotional Intelligence and present my latest research with school principals). I look forward to seeing my kids playing on the beach where I grew up and nurturing their love for swimming, sand and ice cream! I also look forward to spending time away from my computer, reconnecting with family and friends, and getting (re)energized. Summer is such a special time of the year. It brings the necessary pause from the daily routines, the opportunity to rest and recharge, and the mental space to look into the future with optimism and hope. Read more
I did the last internship for my teaching credential in a rural town in Nicaragua, volunteering at a local NGO – Los Pipitos – that supported children with disabilities. During my time there, I worked alongside a promotora de salud (community health professional), Martha; the most patient human being I have ever met, I learned everything I know about empathy from her. Read more
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which students, teachers and families learn and practice the skills of emotional intelligence. As a process, implementation of SEL might look differently in different schools with unique needs and students. Although there are certain key ingredients to create an evidence-based, sustainable SEL program, the way in which schools, teachers and students make these ingredients come together will vary. Teachers’ readiness, leadership support, students’ social and emotional needs and existing resources, among other factors, will influence how schools go about making SEL “work” in their communities. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. Read more
When I was a kid, I became fascinated with the story of Momo by Michael Ende. Have you read it? Momo is a little girl of mysterious origin with an extraordinary ability to listen – really listen. I remember reading the book and wondering, how does she do it? Can I really listen that way too?
She listened in a way that made slow-witted people have flashes of inspiration. It wasn’t that she actually said anything or asked questions that put such ideas into their heads. She simply sat there and listened with the upmost attention and sympathy, fixing them with her big, dark eyes, and they suddenly became aware of ideas whose existence they had never suspected. Momo could listen in such a way that worried and indecisive people knew their own minds from one moment to the next, or shy people felt suddenly confident and at ease, or down-hearted people felt happy and hopeful. Read more
The relationships that children and youth establish with adults are critical for a healthy social and emotional development. When students and teachers establish positive, caring relationships, students are more likely to use their teachers as resource to solve problems, engage in learning activities, and better navigate the demands of school (Williford & Sanger Wolcott, 2015). Researchers have found that high-quality relationships between students and teachers are linked with students’ academic and social-emotional outcomes. Read more
A few weeks back, I registered my daughter for kindergarten in the local school district. It was a moment filled with different emotions: excitement for the new experiences she will have, worry for the challenges, and also a bit of sadness because she is no longer my little “baby”. A moment of true self-awareness! Read more
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” wrote cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Unfortunately, many people have been anesthetized into believing they don’t count, that they can’t make a difference. These beliefs cause people to detach emotionally and retreat from taking any action. Read more