It is the beginning of a brand-new school year! Teachers are eager to meet new students, see their bright smiles and hear their giggles filling classrooms (in person or remote) with joy. Many have already experienced their first day of school this year, while others are awaiting the arrival of that day. Are students filled with excitement as they return to learning this year, whether in person or remotely? Pause for a moment to reflect on events that have taken place since March 2020. Lives were upheaved without warning. Fear, panic, stress, anxiety and depression are but a few emotions adults have felt and are continuing to feel. What might children have been feeling over the past few months? Ask them. Begin each day, each time period with students asking, “How are you feeling today?” (Try using the Mood Meter for students to use as expressing their emotions, as Dr. Marc Brackett describes in one of his latest articles, The Colors of Our Emotions.)
There is no doubt that this school year is different. Teachers are physically rearranging classrooms to allow for physical distancing, rearranging homes to be more conducive for teaching from home, learning new cleaning protocols for school classrooms, learning new tools for teaching remotely, choosing learning tools that are equitable for all students, learning assessment tools for teaching remotely, designing/creating new lessons for flipped and blended classrooms and the list could continue. Professional learning is part of an educator’s system of systemic improvement. In addition to learning new ways to attend to student cognitive development and health, schools are also seeking and offering professional learning for teachers to ensure they are prepared to teach Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills and strategies. It may sound as if the additional hype related to SEL is ‘one more thing’ for teachers to learn and do this year. In reality, it is not. SEL has been a part of learning for decades through teaching student’s soft skills, character education and other skills necessary for emotional competence and education the whole child.
Social emotional learning, as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL is a vital segment of every individual’s knowledge and skill base when it comes to our emotions and self-direction. We must know and show how to manage our stress, anxiety and a plethora of other emotions during these times of uncertainty so that we are able to manage future times when it feels as if the world is spinning out of control. Emotional contagion is real; our children, our students will model the same behaviors we exhibit when managing our own emotions. While we strive to be seen as strong role models, we also realize that children must be taught these essential skills for managing social and emotional behaviors. But SEL does not have to be something new added to an already packed learning day or does it need to exist as a stand-alone curriculum. Although many different implementation models exist, according to CASEL, SEL is most effective when integrated throughout the instructional day.
Most likely, you’ve been teaching students SEL strategies throughout lessons and may not have considered those strategies as SEL. So, how might you determine if SEL strategies already exist within your lessons? Find a common language. In other words, compare your lesson (content standards, activities, teaching methods, etc.) to the Social Emotional Learning Competencies: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible-Decision Making and look for commonalities. For example, consider the Mathematical Process Standard, “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.” The underlying skills students need for this process standard is the ability to relate a problem to prior knowledge, recognize that there may be more than one path to a solution, analyze the problem, determine strategies to solve the problem, attempt to solve it, evaluate the success, refine the process of solving and so forth. Compared to the SEL Competencies, first notice that students need to be self-aware. The ability to work through the iterative process of solving a problem and persevere until reaching a solution requires a student to be confident, utilize his/her strengths, be self-efficacious and optimistic that a correct solution can and will be made. This standard also requires a student to self-manage. It is easy for students to become frustrated when solving problems; however, working with and teaching them skills to manage stress helps them persevere. This process standards requires them to be disciplined to continue working on the problem and motivated to not give up. Mathematical Process Standard 1 also directly relates to the SEL competency responsible decision-making. Students must have the ability to identify problems, analyze and solve problems and evaluate and reflect all while observing social norms within their environment.
Let’s consider an example from the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP). Students must be able to construct (and analyze) scientific arguments to support claims, explanations or designs using evidence from observations, data or informational text. Depending on the grade level, students will use skills such as dialogue with peers to argue, formally or informally, consider multiple viewpoints, revise new arguments or explanations based on new evidence, critique peer arguments, provide reasoning, and more. Before you continue reading, refer to the SEL Competencies and determine which ones you believe have a “common language” with this particular SEP. You may have said, self-awareness because students have to know their own strengths, be self-confident when making their arguments and efficacious when presenting their data. You may have also thought about self-management. Students will need to manage their stress, control impulses (especially if peers are critiquing their work), be organized and disciplined to carry out the work. Another important SEL competency for this SEP is social awareness. Students must be able to express empathy, appreciate diversity and other perspectives and respect others while constructing arguments, presenting arguments and critiquing peers or receiving critique from peers. You might have included relationship skills as a SEL competency. Most certainly, in this SEP and many other situations, students must be able to communicate clearly and effectively, engage with others cooperatively, and work with teams. Lastly, you may have also included responsible decision-making as one of the SEL competencies that has common language with this SEP. In both the SEP and when students are making responsible decisions, they are making intentional choices to interact individually and, in a group, based on the well-being of everyone.
As you see, there is common language among academic standards and SEL competencies. However, there are also connections in strategies you may use on a daily or weekly basis. You may use strategies to motivate and engage , such as Elbow Partners, Clock Partners or Turn and Check, throughout the learning process to promote a collaborative environment. These strategies help students see themselves as an active participant in their learning process and achieve their learning goals. Depending on the strategy used, students may engage in assessing and providing feedback to self or peers, think critically, value others’ perspectives and opinions and make connections. You may already be considering which SEL competencies also have this common language that these strategies support. Depending on the specific motivating and engaging strategy used, all of the SEL competencies may relate.
You may use specific writing strategies to organize, interpret or apply information and make predictions, such as Here’s What! So What? Now What? or you may use a Two-Minute Paper to reflect on learning and encourage forward thinking. Dependent upon how these strategies are used within a lesson and whether they are group or individual work, SEL competencies may include self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. The use of Concept Maps within lessons emphasizes relationship skills, responsible decision-making and social awareness. You can find more engagement, writing, dialogue and cooperative group strategies in our S2TEM Centers SC Resource Library.
We are here to help! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss ways in which we can assist your school or district with finding common language among content standards and SEL competencies.
Remember: SEL isn’t ‘one more thing’ to do…it is the common thread that ties everything together.