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On-Site Staff / Opinion / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality

2 Terrific Tips on Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) For Adults


This blog is about SEL for adults, exploring why and how we must practice SEL in our collective work, both in and out of school.

I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence. I asked my close colleague, who sits just across from me in the office, what I should write about in this next blog.  Understanding my ongoing, organic theme about creating conditions for youth voice and choice, he suggested I write about the competencies within us that allow for this to happen. I was intrigued but hadn’t quite found my full inspiration for what to write. The next day I had a check-in with my leadership coach, who supports me with my ongoing growth and learning. As usual, we had a powerful exchange of ideas, many of which revolved around the need for us, as adults, to invest our time and energy in continuing to learn what SEL means for us and to practice it on a regular basis. The connections were then born, a reason and purpose appeared for me between these two conversations…and this all came to my heart and mind…

The competencies that educators and community leaders leverage to create the conditions for youth voice and choice are SEL! This is also why we must practice SEL on a regular basis as adults. Shout-out to CASEL, whose comprehensive set of Core SEL Competencies are definitely worth checking out when thinking about our work with young people AND our own development as professionals working in Expanded Learning and the formal K-12 systems.

How we practice SEL in the workplace boils down to a couple of BIG opportunities. One comes with all of the informal interactions we share regularly. The second has to do with the professional development offerings we create and facilitate.

  1. Our first opportunity comes with taking the time to greet one another and check in with how things are going. This is absolutely critical. Within these exchanges, we can share our perspectives and feelings and learn more about our peers and community. As a result, we are more likely to have productive, formal meetings and remain responsive as challenges arise. Not to mention how this establishes a sense of belonging and family, like at LA’s BEST.
  2. The second opportunity is directly related to the learning experiences we develop and allow to unfold. I often hear ‘…that felt like one big, long icebreaker…’ or ‘…why did we spend so much time doing those activities?’ Intentionally designing and facilitating experiences with opportunities to practice SEL is instrumental in this educational and societal paradigm shift we find ourselves in. It cannot simply be that we understand and can articulate what SEL looks like with students, because then we’ve missed the opportunity to build community. More importantly – the second we think we have anything fully figured out, is the second we do not – especially with the dynamics at play within SEL. So next time you’re balking (internally or externally) at including or responding to a prompt to turn to a neighbor and hear their perspective or to get to know them better, please pause and allow for it to happen – both as a facilitator and participant.

This is our work. How can we expect others around us to do it if we are not all willing to practice it ourselves, regardless of our respective roles and/or job titles?

In closing, I’d like to share a valuable piece of advice I received from one of my first mentors when transitioning out of my longtime role as a Site Coordinator in the neighborhood where I grew up. I was very sad to leave but had gotten a new job (that I was nervous to take on) as the Training & Education Director at School’s Out Washington. His advice was to never lose the spirit, energy, and approach I had in my community as a leader. He said to treat those around me just like I did in my role as Site Coordinator. As a Site Coordinator, I had learned the importance of self-awareness and self-management. I had successfully established and continually invested in the relationships I shared. Social awareness and responsible decision-making went hand-in-hand for me in this role. I took this advice to heart and, many years later, am still extremely grateful for such a gift – especially as there is a heightened awareness around the importance of these SEL competencies.

As always, this is just meant as food for thought.

And, on the note of food, I had the usual breakfast with a few celery sticks with peanut butter, a hard-boiled egg, toast, water, and a hot cup of coffee. 

Peace and love!  ZW

Author: @zachwilson

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