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Social and Emotional Learning in Practice

Social and Emotional Learning in Practice

Next week, we’re kicking off our very first Edmentum Educator Summit, and I’m so excited to welcome our group of awesome connected educators for two days of in-depth discussions and in-person networking. With the summit, our hope is to provide an opportunity for educators to dig into some of the really sticky questions—the ones without easy answers or clear paths for action. One of these tricky topics that I’m most looking forward to diving into is one that has been getting plenty of (well-deserved) buzz lately—social and emotional learning, referred to as SEL.

SEL is just another acronym to add to the alphabet soup that educators are already faced with, right? Classrooms all over the country have PBIS bulletin boards, PBL assignments, RTI/MTSS folders, and UDL lessons which follow ESSA legislation. However, SEL is important because it doesn’t just prepare students for a specific something—it teaches them to prepare themselves for anything. And, for a growing number of schools and districts, SEL has become a coordinating framework for how educators, families, and communities partner to promote students’ holistic learning and development. It is not just another buzzword or bulletin board—but a process.

So, what exactly does social and emotional learning mean and look like in practice? Here’s just a few key outcomes to keep in mind:

  • SEL is embedded within school/district strategic plans, staffing, professional learning programs, and budgets. It guides curriculum choices and classroom instructional approaches and becomes a driving force behind the content presented to students.
  • SEL energizes schoolwide practices and policies. It informs how staff and students relate with each other at all levels of the system, creating a welcoming, participatory, and caring climate for learning.
  • SEL shapes the relationships between educators, families, and the broader community, placing the focus on engagement, trust, and collaboration.
  • SEL empowers students to develop skills that directly impact not only their academic lives but also their success and happiness as adults engaging in careers and personal relationships.

I can’t think of a single educator who wouldn’t want to support these goals for students. But, figuring out the how and the when to add ANOTHER thing to your already crammed full day can be overwhelming. 

Take a breath; I have faith in you. In fact, I bet you are already putting SEL strategies into action—you just might not realize it.

Traditional approaches to instruction are bolstered by cross-curricular methods; the same holds true for SEL instruction. Promoting social and emotional development for all students in classrooms involves teaching and modeling social and emotional skills, providing opportunities for students to practice and hone those skills, and giving students the chance to apply those skills in different situations. 

Think Mr. Rogers, but your version of him. Start by thinking about the concept of resilience, or grit. Resilience is a skill particularly core to SEL that also translates well across subject areas. Whether students are reading literature about a character’s challenging journey or learning to persevere through a difficult word problem, resilience is always relevant. 

Once you’ve wrapped your head around this weighty concept, consider having a conversation with your students about what I like to call “The Ride.” This is not something that is memorized and regurgitated. This is behavior that becomes the fabric of a person. “The Ride” is a lifelong adventure—encourage your students to enjoy it (and don’t forget to do so yourself too!). Point out to students that, as we become more aware of our own impact and reactions, we can make decisions based on that awareness.  Impulsive behaviors that come from anxiety or anger can be recognized for what they are, while calm, kind, and measured actions can be better celebrated.

Help your students commit to this concept of ”The Ride,” reminding them that, sometimes, it is difficult, and failure is part of the journey. Grit, flexibility, and learning from mistakes are all integral to the process. Think about the historic and fictional applications here—no one we study or read about was perfect with every step, but people have always continued to take the next step. Acknowledge with your students that, yes, the struggle is real, and that we all face our own challenges and missteps. The important thing is learning from every experience and moving forward. Mr. Rogers would approve.

Finally, move on to the actual biology of the brain. Brains are malleable, not predetermined. If a student can understand that learning behavior can change the brain, suddenly education morphs from a required, adult-appeasing activity to a valuable life hack. I am not sure how Mr. Rogers would explain this, but I am pretty sure that he recognized it.

Ultimately, social and emotional learning comes down to keeping the focus on each student as an individual, while reinforcing the value of connection, respect, and flexibility. Help all learners celebrate their uniqueness, find their voices, and discover their passions. Make sure that students realize that they are all undergoing this journey together, but the experience will be unique for everyone. And, that is what makes life and learning both unendingly rich.

So, to recap—Mr. Rogers, grit, “The Ride,” and brain biology. I challenge you to find these terms together in another sentence anywhere! But, use them as a starting point to think outside the box. Put your educator magic to work presenting academic concepts through new and different lenses, and you’ll be well on your way to integrating SEL into your classroom.

Looking for additional information and resources related to social and emotional learning? We can’t wait to cover this topic in-depth at Educator Summit, and we’ll certainly share the conversation and learnings with the Edmentum Educator Network next month. In the meantime, check out this SEL Resource Round-Up, and share your SEL tips and tricks with the rest of the Educator Network in our Facebook group! Tell us about your version of Mr. Rogers. 

Haven’t joined the Edmentum Educator Network yet? Sign up today to become a part of this outstanding professional learning community, access our private Facebook group, take advantage of opportunities to work with the Edmentum Curriculum team, and make sure that YOUR voice is heard!

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Winnie O'Leary

Winnie O’Leary has spent over 25 years in education, as a classroom teacher, school board member, a family advocate, special education teacher, curriculum writer and currently the Educator Initiatives Manager. Her experiences have allowed her to work with districts all over the country where she learns something new and exciting every day.