Over the past year, I have talked with dozens of educators and community leaders about their goals for social-emotional learning (SEL), which I define as identifying what is going on in our heads and in our hearts so we can use our hands to build up, rather than tear down.
What I hear most often is the need to build adults’ capacity for SEL.
Having worked in education and community programs for two decades, I have seen the pendulum swing from the focus on SEL (previously referred to as character education or prevention efforts) to schools’ focus on testing, and then back to SEL again. There have been tens of thousands of teachers who entered the field when testing was emphasized who may not have yet been exposed to all that SEL is. Likewise, there are pre-service educators for both in-school and community programs who may have questions about the why, who, what, where, when, and how of SEL.
Since we are modeling for our children, working both in school and during out-of-school hours to support their well-rounded development, we must commit to developing our own social-emotional competencies and showing kids a positive example.
Taking time this summer to reflect, plan, and prioritize is imperative for bringing the community together around the needs of students and families, as well as taking inventory of our own strengths and weaknesses.
- Why? – Given our current climate, as well as the increasing needs of students and families in trauma, we need to teach kids the values and skills of self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship building, and social awareness. This helps them develop positive identity and prepares them to be productive problem-solvers. However, in order to teach SEL, we must embrace it ourselves. Be prepared…this will get messy.
- Who? – SEL is for students, families, schools, and communities. A comprehensive approach begins with establishing a common language so everyone who is hands-on with kids – staff members and family members ― can work together.
- What? —Prioritizing professional development training and ongoing coaching for staff is a must. It’s also important to commit to consistent family communications via newsletters, emails, and social media channels. Additionally, staff must know they have permission to take time to address the SEL needs of their students and themselves. For example, when a child is triggered, a staff member needs to know that s/he has support from leadership to address the situation in a restorative manner rather than a punitive measure. Similarly, when a staff member needs time to work through issues, s/he needs to know that they are understood and valued.
- Where? – SEL happens everywhere children and adults interface. Adults are constantly modeling SEL, for good and bad. How do we interact with our colleagues? How do we respond to a child who is crying? Do we apologize when we use a sharp tone?
- When? – Not only do we model SEL in our day-to-day activities, but we can also provide explicit instruction about skills and behaviors by being intentional about SEL. Having meaningful conversations with students about courage, honesty, kindness, self-control and more can start with reading a story or discussing current events. Again, having a common language for these conversations is essential.
- How? ― Keep in mind, SEL is not a quick fix. It is a lifestyle. We must shift our thinking from implementingg a program to building relationships. Curriculum can help provide focus and a common language, but our mindset must be centered on the needs of the whole child. Lasting change comes with time and consistency – a dose effect. In order to engage and sustain the entire community, we must embrace an interdisciplinary approach that includes literacy, arts, and service learning. Remember…effective SEL includes content and practice integrated within the culture to improve the climate.
Our goal for SEL is for everyone – students, staff members, and families – to feel seen, known, valued, and loved. Together we can let everyone know they belong!
My Favorite Breakfast Food: Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – It’s how I get my caffeine for the day. 🙂