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Posts from the ‘Teaching with the Heart in Mind’ Category

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.

Although the school has had many successes, they have also faced difficulties. As I have discussed in the past, a whole-school approach to SEL is a process that takes time and a committed, planned effort. Through my consulting, I have been privileged to observe teachers overcoming challenges and finding ways to support students’ social and emotional growth, many times despite budget constraints and minimal support from administration.

In Teaching with the Heart in Mind, my forthcoming SEL book, I discuss some of these challenges and how teachers solve them. In many cases, educators “jump in” and improve their craft as they teach and infuse SEL in their classrooms. In this snippet from the book, I share some of the findings in my doctoral dissertation. If you are interested in reading more about this research, send me a message. And if you want to receive these excerpts directly in your email, sign up  for updates.

In a 2013 report, 90% of participating teachers expressed strong support for focusing on SEL in schools. However, the challenges of implementing SEL in the classroom cannot be ignored. During my doctoral research, I interviewed teachers who were implementing SEL as a schoolwide initiative[i]. One of the educators shared with me:

We have so many pressures, and we feel the need to push our kids and have them grow. There are a lot of extrinsic forces at play. (SEL) it is a great reminder that first and foremost we need to be nurturing our kids and making sure they are growing emotionally.”

Most educators believe that it is important to teach these essential skills, and realize how students cannot focus academically if they experience strong emotions or are constantly stressed.  Yet many educators struggle to find ways to incorporate this work in their teaching, given time constraints and academic pressure. Several teachers during my research expressed feeling guilty about stopping their academic instruction to deal with social and emotional issues. They were concerned about falling behind in their scope and sequence, and then not being able to catch up.

However, as these teachers included SEL time in their daily calendar, they realized they now had a common language to discuss social and emotional issues with students, which made these conversations more effective. At the same time, they started to see students self-monitoring more and solving problems on their own, which meant they didn’t need as much support and facilitation from the teacher. Teachers reported that the benefits of teaching these skills outgrew the challenges they had to overcome to make it work in their classrooms. So, plan to celebrate the small accomplishments and prepare to find challenges along the way. It can be done, but it requires perseverance and purpose. In chapter 7, I discuss how you can prepare yourself for this exciting work.

Do you want to be in the loop about the book? Sign up for updates or follow #teachingheartinmind on Twitter. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!

[i] Martínez, L. (2016). Teachers’ Voices on Social Emotional Learning: Identifying the conditions that make implementation possible. International Journal of Emotional Education, 8(2), 6.

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.

SEL implementation is a schoolwide effort to remove barriers to learning, as much as it is a process to teach social and emotional competencies to students. Many schools focus their initial SEL implementation efforts on selecting and implementing an SEL curriculum; that is fine. However, that is not the end of the process. When done well, SEL transforms the fabric of the school and the relationships that take place there. As Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, Director at Open Circle, said during the conference: “We are in the business of human connections.”

In Teaching with the Heart in Mind, my forthcoming SEL book, I discuss the importance of adopting SEL as a transformational process. It does not matter how you get started with SEL, but it does matter that you look at the social and emotional conditions of the learning environment. Here’s a snippet from chapter 4 – Essential Skills for Life. If you want to receive these excerpts directly in your email, sign up  for updates or send me a message. I love hearing from you!

SEL is a tool that guides the social and emotional factors in the context that influence learning. For example, the leadership and management style of school administrators and staff impacts the type of learning environment that is created in schools. When principals are warm with students and approachable to families, it is more likely that they will feel welcome in school. At the same time, the rules and protocols that schools put in place to address students’ misbehavior will influence the learning environment that is created at school. For instance, restorative justice focuses on building relationships and repairing harm, rather than simply punishing students for misbehavior. In schools that incorporate restorative practices, when people make mistakes or cause harm, restorative interventions help these students or adults understand the impact of their actions, heal the harm, and restore the community.

Some schools and districts focus on the teaching of social and emotional competencies as the first step in their SEL implementation efforts. Although that is a common strategy, schools’ efforts shouldn’t stop there. SEL is more than just a program or lesson; it is about considering how classroom’s practices and school policies support (or not) students’ learning and growth, and making appropriate changes when needed.

Imagine a middle school student, Shakti, who doesn’t participate in whole class conversations. She may feel insecure, shy or afraid to make a mistake. The teacher could focus on teaching Shakti strategies to navigate her emotions in these situations. That would be helpful. However, in addition to teaching these management tools, the teacher could also consider adapting her teaching to better meet Shakti’s needs. For example, by providing the question ahead of the classroom conversation, so Shakti can prepare a response or by creating opportunities for the student to participate in group conversations that increase in size over time. The key here is to consider not only the skills that students should develop (and that we will teach), but also how our teaching practices may impact students’ ability to engage with the content or their peers, and learn what they need to learn.

SEL implementation is a schoolwide effort to remove barriers to learning, as much as it is a process to teach social and emotional competencies to students. This long-term effort is most effective when all the stakeholders in the school community are involved-school administrators, educators (including out-of-school time), students, families, and community partners. These partnerships not only enrich students’ experiences in schools, but they also provide a sense that everybody is working together to support students’ learning and growth.

Do you want to be in the loop about the book? Sign up for updates or follow #teachingheartinmind on Twitter. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!

Adversity Affects Learning

David was a 5th grader at an elementary school in East Oakland (California), where I worked as a special education teacher¹. The school was located in a neighborhood greatly affected by crime, drugs and gangs. Many students at the school had been exposed to violence and abuse, and most students had some kind of psychological trauma. David lived with two siblings and his mom, who was addicted to drugs. I saw David twice a week to work on his reading. The minute he walked into my room, I could clearly see if he was doing well or having a hard day. When he felt defeated, frustrated or pushed in any way, he would shut down and not respond to any verbal communication. Read more

The Power of Relationships

Think about your relationship with a good friend or a close colleague; you may push each other to do better, seek comfort when you are struggling or simply share a good laugh. As social beings, human relationships are at the core of a healthy development. This is true for all—children, youth and adults. From the infant who is starting to develop a bond with their caregiver to the elderly person, nurturing our human capacity to form and maintain relationships is essential to developing a positive sense of wellbeing. Read more

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