Social and Emotional Learning
In a classroom that supports student learning as well as their social and emotional well-being, there will be fewer disruptions, and students will better connect with the learning and the school environment as a whole. But a positive classroom climate is not achieved by happenstance.
A positive classroom climate is achieved through intentional actions that are meant to develop students’ SEL skills over time—skills that students will have to sharpen depending on situations and circumstances they encounter. As educators, we also understand that we must continually provide students with the opportunity to sharpen those skills using a variety of strategies and activities throughout the school day in multiple settings.
What comes to mind when you think about a classroom with a positive climate and culture? Do you think about the quality of the teacher-student relationship? What about the relationships among the students? Even though the teacher-student relationship plays an important role in student academic success, so do the relationships that students have with each other. How do we as teachers foster those positive student-to-student relationships within our classroom?
Understanding that students learn better in an environment where they feel liked and appreciated, we are always looking for ways to strengthen these relationships. We should prioritize activities and strategies that engage our students in the learning process but also with each other.
When we address a student’s social and emotional well-being, we help cultivate a positive school environment and culture, which helps students feel safe and want to learn and contribute. There is no magic pill that we can give our students, but there are intentional actions we can take to incorporate SEL skills into classrooms to help develop the whole child.
Listed below are a few steps that you can take to incorporate SEL in the classroom.
Social-Emotional Learning Strategies
1. Actively Listen
How do we even begin to know what SEL skills we need to address with our students? We can start by simply listening to what they are saying. Naturally, most people listen to respond instead of listening to learn, but as teachers, it is vital that we actively listen to what our students are saying to us and each other.
I used to allow students to eat lunch in my room on occasion just so I could hear their conversations and get a glimpse into their world. Those random conversations would help me get a pulse on my students and give me a heads up on any problems that could be brewing so I could work to proactively diffuse the situation before it occurred.
This time also allowed me the opportunity to strengthen my relationships with my students. Our students are always looking for ways to connect with us, and this was a non-academic time when my students could just be themselves in a small-group setting with me.
2. Incorporate Social and Emotional Issues Into Your Curriculum
Our students experience so much more than we did at their age, so it can be helpful if they have the opportunity to discuss issues they are experiencing while hearing your thoughts and those of their peers. We can do this by finding age-appropriate ways to incorporate real-life issues into our students’ curriculum.
Say you are teaching students about synonyms and antonyms. You can assign students a text to read that has a focus on feelings and/or emotions in a particular situation. Students could identify vocabulary words that emphasize feelings and find alternative synonyms or antonyms to describe those feelings. This provides students with additional vocabulary to describe their feelings, but they also get to hear how their peers would describe the words.
Activities like this one make content more relevant and allow students to see how they can use the skills and concepts they learn in a real-world setting.
3. Create Opportunities for Students to Get to Know Each Other
You can do this by incorporating group projects and activities into your curriculum that require collaboration and an understanding of the perspectives of others. You will need to put in place group expectations and norms so students know what is expected of them when working with their classmates.
Some of the activities can focus specifically on classroom content, but there can be times when students are grouped specifically to participate in team-building activities so they can get to know each other. Team building is vital when cultivating positive student-to-student relationships.
4. Set Weekly Goals With Students
It would be great if students were taught to set goals as soon as they learned to write. This strategy could help students learn how to self-manage and problem solve when things do not go as planned.
You can start by having each student create a weekly goal and an action plan to accomplish the goal. Once the goal is set, remind students to look over their action plan throughout the week to see if they are on target to accomplish their goal. For example, a student may set a goal to get an A on an upcoming math test. The first step on their action plan could be to take their notes home every night and study for an additional 30 minutes after school.
Once students have mastered this process with weekly goals, allow them to set goals that will take a couple of weeks to a month to accomplish and to create the action plan needed. As students revisit their action plan, encourage them to make adjustments as necessary. Of course, this strategy should be adjusted based on the student’s age.
By following these steps, you can incorporate social-emotional learning into your classroom—both into the content being taught and into students’ everyday interactions. By doing so, you can create a more positive learning environment and teach students skills that will benefit them for life.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
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Education Research Director, Core Literacy & Early Learning
Dr. Vytas Laitusis
Education Research Director, Supplemental & Intervention Math
Associate Partner, ICLE