Make SEL Intentional

One of my most vivid memories from high school is related to a teacher who completely lost his cool.  Our class was being quite unruly, and our poor teacher just came unglued with screaming and yelling and such.  He certainly got our attention when he slammed his arm down on a cabinet to get us to be quiet.  Of course, he also broke his arm in the process (which ashamedly I admit caused our entire classroom to laugh and become unruly again).

The professional adult I am now looks back at that situation and thinks things might have gone better if the teacher had embraced the direct teaching of social and emotional skills in the classroom.  In the book Turning High-Poverty Schools Into High-Performing Schools authors William Parrett and Kathleen Budge encourage teachers to openly model and teach the following types of social and emotional skills (p.144):

  1. Conflict resolution, collaboration, communication, and adaptability – In order to be successful in the classroom and in life, students need the ability to get along with others and how to manage relationships when there are disagreements.  Students also need the ability to share perspectives and to adjust to ever-changing situations.  Our classrooms can become great practice zones for all of these things. 
  2. Recognition, expression, and management of emotions – Students need the ability to recognize the emotional states of themselves and others.  They need the ability to verbalize their feelings and keep themselves in check.  Answering a simple, “How are you feeling today” question gives students the opportunity to practice these skills. 
  3. Perspective-taking – Students need the ability to comprehend that others may have differing viewpoints based upon their own unique experiences.  This skill can be practiced very well through the use of literature and having students try to explain plot situations from the point of view of different characters in the text.  
  4. Trauma-sensitive strategies – Students need safe spaces in which to learn, and your classroom can offer the consistency, routine, and positive reassurance that will help students make progress in spite of the trauma they may have experienced.
  5. Mindfulness and other stress reducing techniques – Students need tools for managing stress.  Quiet time, breathing exercises, and calming sensory experiences such as listening to quiet music or dimming the lights helps students to release some of the stress they carry.  These experiences can be easily integrated into the classroom. 
  6. Growth mindset – Students need encouragement to press on through difficulty and need to see that they are improving.  Fill your classroom with the language of growth and share stories of those who have struggled and overcome.  Model growth mindset in your own experiences.
  7. Character and citizenship – Students need to do the right thing for themselves and others.  Reinforcing positive character traits and creating opportunities to serve others within the classroom setting will help students strengthen their character and their citizenship skills.

As you prepare for next week, think of ways that you can bring these kinds of social and emotional skills into your classroom.  Your students will be glad you did!

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