Skip to content

Posts from the ‘SEL’ Category

Context Influences Relationships

This week, I will be spending two days with colleagues and friends from around the world who deeply care about the social and emotional health of children, youth and adults. This is CASEL’s first conference, a great opportunity to celebrate the work that has been done to date, identify the current challenges, and make plans to grow this practicing community. In addition to presenting research that I conducted with colleagues from the Learning Policy Institute, I look forward to connecting with the many people with whom I have collaborated over the years, and also meeting new colleagues. These relationships fill my bucket and strengthen my commitment to continue doing the work that matters.

I have written in the past about the power of relationships—nurturing our human capacity to form and maintain relationships is essential to developing a positive sense of wellbeing. When we connect with others at an emotional level, we simply feel better. In my forthcoming book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, building relationships is one of the core competencies. In this snippet, I discuss how context influences the way we practice our social and emotional skills. Let me know what you think. I appreciate your feedback.

There is a particular year in my teaching career that I remember with acute nostalgia; a time when I clearly felt the magic of meaningful relationships. I was new to the school, and coming to take the place of a well-loved teacher, who was on sick leave. The students did not want me there; they missed their former teacher and were counting the days for him to be back. As things go sometimes, this teacher was not able to return to work, and I stayed. My partner teacher, Toni, had been at the school for more than 15 years. He was warm and funny, and deeply cared about the children. We quickly connected and had a lot of fun working together. Although he had a lot more teaching experience than I did, he was generally open to my suggestions and ideas for new projects. He made me feel welcome and part of the team; he was there when I needed support with my class or just to vent about students’ behaviors. With his support, I was able to earn my students’ trust and we ended up having a great year.

If you have had a similar experience in your teaching career, you know how important it is to have supportive and caring colleagues. Not only are these relationships important for teachers’ wellbeing, but also they influence how teachers feel about their teaching and the relationships they establish with their students. Let me explain why.

The way we practice our social and emotional skills is influenced by context[i]. For example, if I had encountered a partner who complained and gossiped about other teachers, or who ignored me, my tendency would have probably been to display more negative behaviors. On the other hand, when people work in supportive and welcoming environments, they are more inclined to successfully manage job stressors (such as handling a challenging class), and ask for or offer help when needed.

Now, think about your current workplace. How does it affect your behavior and the ways in which you relate to students, colleagues and families? Are you able to be your “better self”? Being aware of how your work environment affects your behavior will help you make different choices if necessary. Whenever possible, surround yourself with supportive colleagues.

While you may have less control over certain aspects of your school’s climate, you do play a big role in creating an environment in your classroom that is conducive to positive relationships, enjoyable experiences, and meaningful learning. A big part of this endeavor is developing students’ relationship building skills, so they can learn how to work with different people, have productive disagreements, and have tools to “find their place” in a group.

As you have probably experienced in your professional and personal life, for relationships to be strong and long-lasting, you need to cultivate them. In a way, relationships are like a fire—sometimes you have to build them from scratch, using tinder and kindling, while other times you can sit back and enjoy the warmth before adding some more wood. This is why the verb in this competency is to reignite, which means to burn again, to give new life and energy.

Until next time, keep me posted on your SEL progress, and get in touch if you need any additional support.

Sign up for updates about the book. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!

[i]   Jones, S. M., Bouffard, S. M., & Weissbourd, R. (2013). Educators’ Social and Emotional Skills Vital to Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(8), 62–65.

Behavior is Communication

“What happened, Mom? What is going on?” My daughter asked the other night, while she climbed on a chair to look at my computer. I was staring at my laptop, looking at pictures of the destruction caused by hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. I felt speechless. Miles and miles of destroyed homes, entire towns swapped away by the hurricane. According to CNN, 70,000 people lost almost everything, and thousands of survivors are still trying to escape the destroyed areas.

I closed my computer and tried to explain what had happened. She got concerned and asked how the children could to school if the buildings were destroyed. “I don’t know” I said, unable to elaborate a better response. That night, she woke up several times asking about earthquakes. She knows that we live close to the San Andreas fault, and she practices earthquake drills at school. At a certain point, children realize that bad things do actually happen.

When children live through stressful events—such as a natural disaster, losing their homes or the death of a loved one—they may become hypervigilant about these events happening again in the future. Even students who have only seen pictures or heard stories about these disasters may become worried about their safety or what they would do if something happened. If students bring up these topics in your classroom, support them by discussing their feelings and answering questions. These conversations may reduce some of their fear and anxiety, and open the door to build trust with your students.

In some cases, students may be experiencing stressful events and educators don’t know about it. As we have discussed in the past, we see the behaviors, but we don’t always know the reasons underneath them. Students might act out, show strong emotions or have big reactions to small incidents. If that’s the case in your classroom, approach them with curiosity. Behavior is communication, so investigate: What are they trying to communicate with this behavior? What do they need that they are not getting?

As an educator, you cannot control what students experience outside of the classroom. However, you can help them develop the tools they need to navigate their emotions and cope with the setbacks they will surely encounter throughout their lives. One important competency to help them with this is self-management, which I discuss in detail in my forthcoming book, Teaching with the Heart in Mind. Here’s a snippet. Let me know what you think.

Sometimes teachers have misconceptions about how social and emotional skills are developed. Educators may think that students, especially in middle or high school, should be able to “get over” their emotions. While this may be true for certain students, it is not accurate for all. Some of the students in our classrooms need additional support to (re)gain their emotional balance. The same way that students may need additional academic support at some point in their schooling, students may also need additional social and emotional supports. Many elementary schools do not incorporate an intentional focus on SEL yet, which leaves students with fewer tools to regulate their emotions in the middle and high school years. No matter which grade span you teach, do not underestimate how much you can do to support students’ social and emotional growth.

When we ignore students’ emotions or expect them to go away, we are denying students’ experiences and ignoring their value. Remember, you can help students experiencing strong emotions by connecting with their feelings: acknowledge and validate-”Your face is tense, you seem upset. What happened? I may also feel upset if that happened to me.”

Another misconception teachers may have is related to students’ ability to learn self-management skills-it is never too late to learn tools to process our emotions, especially for students whose feelings are getting on the way of learning. When students feel out of control due to their emotions, they cannot and will not learn. No matter how well designed your lesson is. Our job as educators is, as Dan Siegel says, to “co-regulate”, that is to help students regain emotional balance and to increase their capacity to navigate their feelings, so they can see things more clearly and respond to daily situations instead of reacting.

The next competency in the HEART model, Electing your Responses, teaches students and adults the tools to create the necessary space that allow us to make constructive, informed and safe decisions. The action verb in this competency, Elect, means to choose, to take the reins of our behavior and select how we are going to move forward. The word Responses means that we move away from reactions and functioning on autopilot, to step into a place of balance.

Until next time,  keep me posted on your SEL progress, and get in touch if you need any additional support.

Sign up for updates about the book. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!

Doing the Work that Matters

Working with educators is probably the favorite part of my job. They are committed, passionate and courageous. They want to get better at teaching, because they care about their students’ wellbeing and success. They are a force for good. Read more

Preparing Teachers to Support SEL

Implementing SEL programs and practices requires teachers to be open, self-reflective and sometimes vulnerable with their students. This may be easy for some teachers, while quite difficult for others. I remember a teacher saying during a training: “Students should learn these skills at home or in elementary school. I already have a hard time covering all my content, I cannot waste any time with check-ins and community circles.” You may have said something similar yourself, or heard colleagues have these conversations. It is part of the process. Read more

Summer is for Self-Empathy

“I don’t have enough time to do everything that needs to be done.” The end of the school year is a busy and stressful time of year―for teachers, students and parents. Schedules are packed with deadlines, school activities and family events, leaving everybody feeling stressed and overwhelmed. According to research, our perceived time pressure is about how well the activities we need to perform fit together in our heads and how much control we think we have over them. This is good news, because it means we can do something about it! Check out this article from Greater Good Science Center, if you need some tips for handling time pressure. Read more

Creating an SEL Mindset

Two weeks ago, I visited a high school in Los Angeles (California) to gather data for a case study that I am conducting with the Learning Policy Institute. Serving around 500 mostly low-income students, the school has raised its graduation rates from 83 percent in its first year to 99 percent last year. A school that is built on teacher leadership, the educational program prioritizes a whole child approach with a relentless focus on providing students with the social, emotional and academic supports they need to ensure they are ready to lead successful and productive lives in college and beyond. Read more

Removing Barriers to Learning

I just returned from attending the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), one of the largest educational research gatherings in the world. Among the thousands of scholars participating in the meeting, there is a special interest group for those passionate about SEL. This year, I organized the program for SEL researchers and was excited to see some new research areas, such as parenting and SEL, cultural competency and diversity, and teachers’ wellbeing. At the same time, I was disappointed to encounter several inquiries that measured social and emotional skills, while ignoring (conscious or unconsciously) the context in which this learning takes place. Read more

%d bloggers like this: