As a teacher-mom of school aged children myself, I struggle with this internal battle of “helping” my children’s teachers. You see, because there’s a fine line between helping and annoying. I’ll admit, there are times where I toe the line, but overall, I think I do a decent job of not overstepping. However, something that is incredibly important to me is my children’s relationship with learning. The line fully disappears for me on this issue. If you asked me to come up with some phrases to characterize myself, the same one always pops up first: life long learner. I consider myself a lifelong learner because early on in my educational career I had some amazing teachers that took the time to establish a relationship with me, which in turn formed my relationship with learning.
While this idea of building relationships with students isn’t a new one, if we know anything in education we know that if it exists, we’re going to turn it into an abbreviation, hence the birth of SEL.
A focus on SEL, or social emotional learning, is trending in schools. School leadership sees it as especially important to address being that some of our students spent an entire year learning from behind a screen and now many more are learning from behind a mask. So while the focus seems to be consistent throughout schools and districts, the approach to SEL has taken on quite a bit of variety. Let’s take a deeper look at what SEL really is, where we can find some good information to support implementation of social emotional learning and fun SEL distance learning activities.
What is it?
According to the leading SEL guru, CASEL, “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” Wow, pretty important, huh? Now, let’s unpack that, shall we? First, CASEL states that it is a process. This means that SEL isn’t a checkbox. You can’t schedule SEL into your daily routine and consider it done for the day. No, SEL needs to be embedded throughout everything we do. The link, or common thread in all content is that students are going to feel something about what you are teaching them. We have to address those feelings with them, in that moment, regardless of whether or not it was scheduled. Next, CASEL argues that SEL is in fact a pretty broad topic.
- Acquire and Apply Knowledge
- Healthy identities
- Manage Emotions
- Achieve Personal and Collective Goals
- Feel and Show Empathy
- Establish Supportive Relationships
- Make Responsible and Caring Decisions
When we break it down like this, it’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t be teaching SEL. In fact, it’s hard to argue that we don’t! But, how do we ensure that we are spending the time necessary to truly support our learners?
Where Do I Start?
Ok, before you work yourself up thinking you have one more thing to teach, relax, you don’t. As I said earlier, SEL should be the common lens through which all content is taught. Much of this can be accomplished through modeling and capitalizing on teachable moments. Engaging in conversations with your students instead of simply imparting pearls of wisdom into their empty vessels! For some, this may seem super, natural and easy to start. For others of us, it can seem like a superhighway of information and you’re not sure which on ramp to use. Never fear, I’ve curated some great resources to help get you started!
Social Emotional Distance Learning Activities
- Getting Unstuck: Naming Emotions
a. Have students start the day with you by naming the emotion they are bringing with them to class. Naming emotions helps bridge the gap between thoughts and feelings and allows teachers a peek into what’s going on in their students’ world.
b. Create a word wall where students can either add their emotions to or use to find a good fit word for what they are feeling. It could be a physical board in your room or a digital one!
- Pick a Prompt Emoji Slide
a. Whole Hearted School Counseling frequently (like daily!) share free resources that can be used with your students instantly, like this pick a prompt guide. Share the images with your students as is, or cut them into individual cards and have them pick and respond. Responses can be gathered on a Padlet, Wakelet or Shared Google Doc.
- Rules of the Red Rubber Ball
a. Kevin Carroll is one of my heroes. He’s an author, speaker and all around great guy! I’ve adapted his book, Rules of the Red Rubber Ball into a passion project for students to use to help them find their voice, discover their passions and achieve their goals.
- The Purpose Challenge
a. Imagine you are 40 years old and things in your life have gone as well as you could have hoped. What will you be doing? Who will be in your life? What will be important to you? Why?
Teachers Are Students Too!
SEL doesn’t just end there though. In CASEL’s definition it clearly states that SEL is a process for young people and adults. I’m looking at you teachers! School leadership must also provide support for teachers–after all, they’re learners too. This article really helped actualize what adult social emotional learning both looks like, and can do for a school. Check it out!
Call To Action
When in doubt, don’t stop asking questions. The right question can open up a whole new avenue for you to explore with your students. But maybe you don’t have the right questions just yet. That’s ok. Find someone who does. Above all, we need to show our students empathy but empathy alone is not enough. For students to take action, it’s important for students to hear stories from people like them. People they admire and respect. People they relate to. Don’t limit your students’ experiences to the answers you have, provide students with opportunities to explore on their own through podcasts, articles, guest speakers and collaborations with each other. Be courageous in your adventure on building your own SEL Culture!
–Lindsay Zilly, IDEA Director of Professional Learning