Richard Allen Overmyer
Children all over the world attend school to gain real-life skills as they prepare for their future. The academic and social skills they acquire will give way to their entrance to the workforce as citizens in society. With a growing trend of more parents working outside the home and increasing demand on highly qualified teachers to comprehensively prepare students for the future, we find ourselves looking to social-emotional learning (SEL) to help students navigate their way through school and life.
Social-emotional learning is the process by which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the skills necessary to improve emotional intelligence by managing emotions, creating quality relationships, and learning to work cooperatively with others to make responsible choices that affect others. One Casel study of Leader in Me, an in-school program that teach emotional intelligence, even leads to reduce disciplinary incidents. Social-emotional learning is a whole brain, whole child philosophy to helping a child become a healthy, happy, responsible adult.
The creative problem solvers of our world—-our teachers—are using the strategies of social-emotional learning to not only manage their classrooms, but to teach real-life skills to children to help improve academic performance. Many believe that if a robust emotional intelligence is developed and fostered in a child, then educating them becomes easier as they feel safe enough to take risks and push themselves beyond their preconceived limitations. Some forms of SEL are direct in helping students develop these skills, while other concepts are cleverly embedded in academic work to ensure that children receive the best possible outcome. If you are a teacher who is new to the idea of social-emotional learning, or one that is seeking to enhance the assimilation of academic content in your classroom, consider adding some of these easy strategies to implement social-emotional learning in your classroom:
1. Start each day with a check in
Kids crave personal connections, and they don’t have to take long to do. A simple greeting, complimentary or affirmative words, or conversation around mutual interests is enough to let your students know that you are interested in who they are and what they have to contribute to your class. They will remember these connections with you and work to deepen relationships with you, which will inspire them to work harder to achieve the goals that you set together.
2. Use story time as a teachable moment
Stories are the perfect tool for teaching emotional competence in a way that is non-threatening to students. Using stories to explain concepts of fairness, dealing with disappointment, and showing empathy and compassion will allow you to build on existing SEL concepts without sacrificing time for curriculum.
3. Switch up the partnerships
Working with partners allows students to learn how to communicate, compromise, and work together toward common goals. Alternate between strategically choosing partners and allowing kids to make their own choices as they build confidence in their teamwork capabilities.
4. Invest time in building a teamwork concept
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link—kids need to know that they are part of a team and that they are all working together to maximize their learning while building valuable relationship skills. Celebrate moments where teamwork is going well, and use moments of struggle as opportunities for growth and change. Commit to working together to make your “team” stronger, and you will all experience more success.
5. Model and nurture kindness
The concept of “bucket filling” for kids is quite familiar in schools these days—when we do kind things, we fill each other’s buckets, while unkind words and actions rob us of a full bucket. Teaching this concept early in the year and then modeling it will ensure that your class demonstrates these core qualities even when the going gets tough.
6. Change your language
Positive words build up, while words of negativity and limitation tend to tear us down. Teach children that their words both to others and to themselves matter—replace words like “I can’t” with “I am trying my best,” or “I don’t like this” with “I am figuring this out right now.” You will be surprised at how quickly kids will learn to adopt this new style of speaking and thinking, and how transformative it will be in your classroom and beyond.
7. Create a peaceful space
Just like adults, kids get upset. We have different ways of coping with anger, sadness, and disappointment. Set up a peaceful area in your classroom for kids to go and air their grievances, cry for a bit, or sit quietly and release negativity and strong emotion. If children know that a place like this exists, they are far less likely to escalate to a point where they cannot handle the depth of their emotions. They will naturally learn to gravitate toward a place where they can calm themselves and find a resolution to their problems.
8. Teach concepts of peer mediation
There is no stronger testament to the acquisition of emotional intelligence than the ability to solve one another’s problems. Teaching kids to listen, to take turns talking, and to validate another’s emotions is a powerful tool that they can take with them as they grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults.
9. Display anchor charts in your room
For ongoing concepts to which you often need to refer, it is helpful to have an anchor chart explaining how these concepts work in your classroom. Covering topics like communication, calming techniques, how to deal with bullying, and the like will be great charts to refer to as these issues come up during the year. Rest assured, they will come up! If you prepare with a bit of forethought and planning, you won’t have to spend instructional time setting kids up for success when you can review a topic you have previously covered.
There is no better way to demonstrate emotional intelligence than by role-playing different SEL strategies in action when you practice problem-solving. Make it into a game, having kids reduce the seriousness of a situation by practicing what they would do if they were immersed in the problem. Soon, kids will be masters of their emotional responses as they learn to think through potential issues and their solutions.
Social-emotional learning is such a critical component of a well-rounded education, but it does not have to be an overwhelming process to implement for a classroom teacher. With these well-thought-out strategies and a few tips and tricks for incorporating them into your day, your class will be a kind, thoughtful reflection of you and your excellent teaching.