I’ve been thinking a lot about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the value it plays in school after recently attending a training by CASEL, a leader in SEL practices and research. CASEL defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” More than ever, the need for these skills is crucial. In my role as teacher support in PLCs and in classrooms, I observe students from a sort of “outsider” position and see the weight students carry as they shuffle around to 6 or 7 classes a day, are bounded by bells, and figure their way through a different routine in every class. I think by continually being reflective about not only what we are teaching kids, but also how we are teaching them, we can transpire our own metacognition skills to our students. The moment I started adding SEL (without knowing it was SEL) into my routines I saw an immediate change in my students and myself. I found myself more focused on student learning and growth as our classroom became a community rather than just another step of the shuffle. I hope this post can shed a light on building our students up, fostering a positive classroom environment, and being the reason your kids come to school.
CASEL identifies three “signature practices” for SEL instruction in classrooms which include welcoming inclusion activities, engaging strategies, and optimistic closures. Many are simple and quick ways teachers can foster a safe and valued classroom. Here are some ideas I have pulled from CASEL and ones I did in my classroom that really made a positive impact.
Welcoming Inclusion Activities:
- Greet students by name at the door (there are some specific teachers I think of right off the top of my head that I work with who do this EVERY single day and I can see the respectful rapport they have with their kids because of it). I know emails come, papers stack, and life happens, but if you make this a habit every day and every class period you are gearing up for a great start to class and bringing your attention to what matters that moment, your students.
- Whole group greeting activities (this may sound cheesy to high school teachers, but kids love and need these). I used to ask my students questions like, if you were the weather today, what would you be and why? If your day was a movie, what would it be and why? I didn’t do it every day and I could have been better at it…in fact I know one teacher who intentionally planned these questions every day and wow, his room was an inspiration to me. You can pose these whole group to share out or just share with a partner/table group. You don’t have to spend more than a couple minutes, but the payoff of knowing how your students are feeling, and will respond to instruction that day, is huge. Imagine knowing a kid is having a bad day before you start the lesson or conversely, what an awesome way to start the class celebrating something from a student that can set the tone for the lesson.
- CASEL has several quick strategies here (https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf). I like the Greeting Frenzy and Four Corners. Read over them and try them out!
This is all about letting kids talk, work together, and engage in meaningful conversation. I know sometimes we fear what will happen when we let their kids talk and so rows start being the norm and direct instruction takes over the majority of the class period. But our kids need to communicate to dig deeper and learn from each other, and it’s our exciting job as educators to encourage and facilitate that in a safe and purposeful way. Below are some ideas.
- Think, ink, pair, share. This is a common practice I used and I see a lot of teachers use, but never underestimate the power of it. I like that CASEL added the “ink” portion to this protocol to ensure students are able to write about what they are thinking. It’s so valuable to let students have independent process time, conversation, and voice in the classroom and a protocol like this perfectly captures it all.
- Lead4ward has an amazing list of strategies called an Instructional Strategies Playlist geared for all grade levels. I really like the snowball fight of Think and Throw (I mean, who doesn’t love throwing paper across the room?!) These may be new to implement and stretch the structure of your class, but try it, I think you’ll see and hear great things!
- CASEL has more quick strategies here (https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf). I like Pass it On. Read through and try some out!
CASEL explains “optimistic closure is not necessarily a ‘cheery ending’, but rather highlights an individual and shared understanding of the importance of the work, and can provide a sense of accomplishment and support forward-thinking.” I love this because I think SEL is not about the dichotomy of separately supporting a student’s emotional well being and their academic learning, but rather blending these two to solidify learning and progress a student’s knowledge.
- Using sentence stems such as “one thing I learned today is…” or “the success criteria I still struggle with is…” are great ways to wrap up a class and provide formative assessments for teachers.
- CASEL has more quick strategies here (https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf). I like One Minute Accolade, One Word Whip Around, and Suit Yourself. Read through and try them out!
So to summarize and emphasize, SEL should not be in addition to your workload but rather incorporate and enhance the good teaching you’re already doing.
Here’s a quick checklist I made while you’re planning to ensure you are including SEL:
- Am I greeting my kids at the door each day, each class?
- Do I know the general (or individual) energy of my students before starting content?
- Do I encourage and facilitate students productively talking to each other about their learning?
- Who is asking the majority of the questions? And how?
- Who/what dismissed my students-myself, the bell, or the learning?
What are other ways you incorporate SEL in your classroom? Which “signature practice” is your strength? Leave a comment to continue the conversation!