Social emotional learning (SEL) is the way children and adults acquire knowledge and skills that impact their ability to manage emotions, manage behaviors, and set and achieve goals. Integrating SEL strategies can support instruction and have a positive impact on academic achievement.
SEL development for students impacts how they practice positive behavior choices in the school environment. As teachers learn more about their students through SEL, they are able to transform their classrooms with activities that challenge and create opportunities for their students to develop their social emotional skills.
Teachers should have a number of unique SEL strategies in their toolbox to use with students. Not all SEL approaches will be perfect for all students. Instead, I would recommend using multiple SEL strategies to supplement other instruction. When I taught elementary school students, I approached SEL development within three areas; communication, self-regulation and evaluation. This helped me target my instruction and best measure the effectiveness of my practice.
6 SEL Strategies for Teachers
Share and Receive Feedback
Gather the students in a circle (sitting or standing) and close out the school day with group communication. During this activity, I used a tactic called “apology, applause and awareness,” where students share statements like, “I apologize for interrupting our reading circle. I applaud my classmates for working together during learning centers. After today’s reading lesson I know that I really enjoy books about animals.”
This activity allows students to share and engage their classmates. If you are teaching middle or high school, a similar activity would work through 1-on-1 sessions hosted each quarter, a shared journal between the teacher and students, or taking a few minutes at the end of the class period and having a few volunteers share out.
Identifying and naming emotions is a very important skill for student success. Teachers can check in with each student or the class as a whole to understand how they are feeling in school that day. For example, if a student shares that they are feeling anxious or feeling curious about a new experience, the teacher could take some additional time to provide context or the time for the student to settle in and focus on the academic content.
Teachers should respond to feelings that are shared by students by creating a space for them to explore that throughout the day. This could be through individual reflection, strategic instruction or in peer-to-peer interaction. This is also a good exercise for students who are practicing naming their emotions and taking action toward addressing them. Teachers and students benefit from this practice. It is a display of trust and understanding amongst the students and builds connections with each other.
Start the day with some quiet time for each student to help them focus on the day ahead. Mindfulness encourages students to center themselves, focus on their breathing and release any stress or agitation. Modeling mindfulness is helpful, as it may be a new practice for students to learn.
In order for students to really focus, the teacher should give explicit instructions and provide examples of body posture and breathing techniques. When engaging in mindfulness, give students techniques to help them focus, like deep breathing or closing their eyes. This a great way to lower stress and increase emotional control.
Providing a quiet space for reflection is necessary for students. In this space, students can write or draw or use other tools to process their emotions and behaviors. Teachers can provide guidance like writing prompts or allow the students to participate in free writing. The reflection zone is a place to center the student. Use this time and space for the student to practice other SEL skills, like identifying emotions, deciding on the best way to communicate, and thinking about how to address their behavior in the future. Teachers can provide guiding questions or have the students engage in their own free write.
Measuring the effectiveness of a SEL curriculum can be achieved in different ways. Schools can use climate surveys as a way to gain a broad understanding of school culture. Surveys can also provide information on how SEL skills are developing for individual students.
Teachers can also gather classroom specific data about behaviors and engagement to determine how students are developing. Sharing this data with other teachers builds a culture among the teaching staff that encourages collaboration and sharing best practices.
Schools can also use behavior management programs to collect concrete data on SEL competencies in real-time. This information can be used to create plans for individual students or to improve SEL skills for the entire class.
The data collected not only helps to inform any needed changes, but also to identify areas of positive results. This is great information for a teacher or leader as they plan for new activities. The data provides information about the success of any initiatives and areas where students can grow.
With culture data, there is an opportunity to celebrate wins. Leadership should recognize teachers who are successfully implementing SEL practices. Celebrate students by recognizing how they are using their skills and how it creates a positive learning environment.
Students who have the ability to regulate their emotions and behavior are able to better engage with other students and respond to the varying activities of the day. SEL measurement data provides leaders, teachers, and students with insight on SEL skills and helps to identify areas of improvement.
Creating spaces for students to practice their skills is important as well. SEL learning is a practice that continues to evolve. Together students and teachers can develop their SEL skills by implementing the strategies above.