One of the things I am most passionate about in my teaching is focusing on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Washington State defines this as, “The process through which people acquire the necessary social emotional skills for life success.” I personally believe that we are responsible to teach the whole child in our classrooms, and that addressing the social and emotional needs of our students first leads to greater success down the road.
In my second grade classroom, we always started the day with this pledge,
“I can learn anything.
I can learn from my mistakes.
If I can’t do it yet, I will keep trying and learning.
I know about the power of yet.
My brain can grow by learning difficult things.
I love challenges!”
My class wrote this one year after completing a series of lessons on Class Dojo, and we said it first thing every single day. Doing something every day starts to shape the way you see things, and I would hear my students repeating some of the phrases from our pledge when they were struggling in class.
When it comes down to it, we can all learn. We can all master skills. We will all struggle. One of the most important things we can do is teach our students to have the grit it takes to rise to these challenges, and to know that it’s okay to fail, struggle, and be challenged. I found by spending the time in the beginning of the year on these ideas, we were able to sail through some pretty amazing content later on.
SEL Standards, Benchmarks, and Indicators
Washington State now has adopted six standards and 17 benchmarks for SEL. The document, Standards, Benchmarks and Indicators provides a framework, and points out observable indicators that are useful for classroom teachers, administrators, families, and students.
The six standards are:
- Self Awareness- individual has the ability to identify their emotions, personal assets, areas for growth, and potential external resources and supports.
- Social Awareness- individual has the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
- Self Management- individual has the ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors
- Social Management- individual has the ability to make safe and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions.
- Self Efficacy- individual has the ability to motivate themselves, persevere, and see themselves as capable.
- Social Engagement- Individual has the ability to consider others and show a desire to contribute to the well-being of school and community.
The Four Principles
We all know that students come to us with different needs. To inform our teaching, Washington’s SEL framework is based on four principles which are discussed in greater detail in the WA SEL Implementation Guide. These principles are:
• Equity. Each child receives what he or she needs to develop to his or her full academic and social potential.
• Cultural Responsiveness. Draws upon students’ unique strengths and experiences while orienting learning in relation to individuals’ cultural context.
• Universal Design. Provides a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people by removing barriers in the curriculum.
• Trauma-Informed Practices. Recognizes the unique strengths and challenges of children and youth in light of the adversities they face.
SEL and Equity
Something to consider when working with your students on SEL is adopting a lens of racial and cultural responsiveness. We must take into consideration cultural mismatch with our own classrooms and foster mutual appreciation and respect of similarities and differences with our students. This effort is based on relationships and requires a positive school culture, and student-centered instructional practices. Truly appreciating the unique perspective each student brings and collaboratively making meaning and building context together in the classroom.
We must work to understand bias and address it in our classrooms in order to promote equity. Research shows that simply believing in your students can affect how well they perform! We all have implicit biases, which are attitudes or stereotypes that are involuntary activated. The key is becoming aware of your bias so that you may work to successfully interrupt bias and become more objective when working with students.
Building a positive, save, and welcoming school climate supports trauma-informed and culturally responsive practices, and is aligned across school, families, and the community. Partnering with community based organizations, and promoting family nights and family outreach are some ways my district addresses these needs. Some examples of addressing these issues can be found in SEL and Equity: Current Issues and Considerations.
Engaging ways to implement SEL Outdoors
Working with school gardens, we have found many opportunities to naturally address social and emotional learning through standards based education. We are teaching students patience, and a literal and physical growth mindset when we take them outside to grow things. Offering outdoor spaces to your counseling staff and teachers as a place to bring students when they are feeling upset can open up opportunities for students to regulate their own emotions by having a calming space to reset during times of stress. We have also found meaningful connections in installing sensory garden areas where kids are encouraged to slow down and use the senses.
Creating shared outdoor spaces with SEL in mind is a great way to build community, context, and promote equity in learning, granting access for all of your students.