I’ve been thinking a lot about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the value it plays in school. A few months ago, we had a training on techniques and strategies from CASEL, and it has started to weigh on my mind in two ways- in my role as a teacher support in planning and classrooms as well as personally as I think about my own son going to school soon. I think a lot of elementary teachers are natural when it comes to SEL, but sometimes it gets lost in middle school and high school. Most secondary students are shuffled to 6-7 classes a day and from the second the bell rings they are often talked at, instructed to sit down, and stop talking. This is not every teacher or every classroom, please don’t take offense at anything I say in this post, but I think as educators we need to be reflective about not only what we are teaching kids, but also how we are teaching them. Additionally, I am a complete advocate for consistent and strategic systems such as posting on your board each day the materials students should have out and ensuring students learn routines, but again we need to be aware of how our students are doing, not just what they are doing. Moreover, in secondary land, if there are 7 classes a day you might dread a class…just saying. I’ve been there, but let’s be reflective. Why are you dreading this class? Have you tried changing your mindset? Have you tried creating a new environment? Are your structures simply about getting work done, factory-like, with little to do with the whole child? If so, something might be missing. The moment I started adding SEL (without knowing it was SEL) into my routines I saw an immediate change in my students and myself. It’s about the kids and YOU enjoying what you do every day, every class. 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 check that they are fostering a safe and valued classroom. Here are some ideas I have pulled from CASEL and ones I did in my classroom that really made an 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 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. A lot of teachers fear what will happen when they let their kids talk, 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 job as educators to encourage 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 it should never be overlooked. 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 their Instructional Strategies Playlist geared for all grade levels. I really like the Careless Clueless and never underestimate the power of a snowball fight (see Think and Throw)!! These may be new 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.
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. In a few weeks, I am attending another training by CASEL on working SEL into your PLCs. I am excited for this because I think if teachers feel SEL in their own practice, it will seamlessly transpire to students.
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 you know the general (or individual) energy of your students before starting your content?
- Are your students talking to each other?
- Who is asking the majority of the questions?
- Did the bell dismiss your students or did 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!
What is SEL?