What’s the big deal with SEL?

By Christina Cipriano, PhD

Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, refers to interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies that underscore the way we understand, use, and manage emotions to learn. Emotions drive how we think, pay attention, make decisions, manage our time, and countless other processes that impact how students and teachers show up in the classroom.

The Rethink Ed SEL for ALL Learners platform is a school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) program for enhancing the psychosocial health and well-being of teachers and students while creating an optimal learning environment that promotes academic, social, and personal effectiveness. Psychosocial health and well-being refers to the knowledge and skills needed to promote mental health, emotion regulation, and prosocial behaviors—knowledge and skills that are necessary for optimal development.

Educators, parents, and legislators acknowledge the need for schools to address the social and emotional needs of students in order to provide a rich learning environment. In fact, a systematic process for promoting SEL is the common element among schools that report an increase in academic achievement, improved relationship quality between teachers and students, and a decrease in problem behaviors.

Ideal SEL curricula are those that address the full spectrum of children’s needs by cultivating a caring, supportive, and empowering learning environments that foster the development of all learners in the school. Rethink Ed SEL was designed specifically to meet these criteria.

Integrating Social and Emotional Learning into Everyday Instruction

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is emerging in schools throughout the country. Some states are even developing and implementing social and emotional standards. The desired outcome of SEL, children and adults who apply understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions (CASEL, 2018), is admirable. Every teacher would hope their students would achieve these outcomes during their school years. But how do teachers make this happen? What should teachers do doing the day to produce this outcome for students?

There is agreement that SEL instruction should be integrated into activities throughout the day. This might include helping students engage in relaxation activities prior to taking an exam to assist with self-management or prior to exiting onto they playground student are prompted to look around and see what they might do to include a peer who might be feeling excluded in the activities. It’s important that teachers are prepared to teach these skills and that they are systematically applied in an effective manner that supports acquisition.

To promote student’s skill developing teachers can model the social and emotional skills themselves and provide direct instruction to their students. Students can also be prompted to practice these skills to support generalization. If a student is learning calming strategies like breathing prior to an exam they might be asked to practice this skill over a weekend when something stressful happens and report back when they return to school on Monday. Or a writing prompt of empathy might be given during literacy lessons, assisting a student to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses in their application of empathy.

The responsibilities of schools have extended past just teaching academics. Students need social and emotional skills that will allow them to succeed in a world that is multi-cultural, requires collaboration and that celebrates effective communication. Educators are developing repertoires to teach social and emotional skills into their daily practice.

Teaching Students to Be Their Own Boss: Applying SEL to Optimize Executive Functioning in Your Classroom

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Susan E. Rivers, PhD

Ready to learn. Natural leader. A role model for peers. A pleasure to have in class. Most likely to succeed.

These statements reflect parents’ wishes for their child’s report card and teachers’ hopes for students in their classrooms. The skills underlying these qualities are learned and can be intentionally taught. Scientists have identified evidence-based skills that promote success in school, work, and life. Children can develop them over time through quality interactions and experiences in their schools, homes, and communities. Teachers and schools can intentionally embed practices that support their development into daily interactions.

That means that every student has the potential!

As educators, we can foster these skills for success by adopting a social and emotional learning lens. By integrating key strategies of SEL competencies, including self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision making, teachers can effectively support student success. By helping students become aware of their thoughts and feelings (self-awareness), they become better able to understand and manage their behaviors (self-management). Having self-awareness and managing behaviors helps students make responsible decisions (e.g., how will this behavior allow me to reach my goal in this situation and long term?). Creating and maintaining supportive relationships also matters for student success and is dependent on skills of social awareness and relationship management. Teachers who help students develop social awareness, guide them in becoming aware others people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings, understanding other people’s perspectives, and feeling empathy. These skills help students maintain supportive relationships and engage in behaviors like active listening, cooperating, managing conflict, and being kind, considerate, and respectful to others. Students are more likely to excel when they have self and social awareness and when they manage their behaviors effectively and responsibly to meet their personal and relationship goals.

This isn’t just about the students.

Teachers have the opportunity to model these strategies to for their students effectively through direct instruction and global modeling. Teachers need to authentically model regulating their emotions, being aware of their feelings, showing compassion, and understanding that feelings impact learning and decisions. Teachers need to authentically acknowledge their strengths and those of their school community, be cognizant of their biases, and demonstrate resilience in the face of obstacles. Teaching the practices without modeling them consistently is ineffective- students of all ages will see right through you! Teachers can’t simply teach it, they need to be it!

Join our monthly webinar series to learn more about authentically modeling and teaching SEL practices in your classroom.

Teaching Students to Be Their Own Boss: SEL Strategies in the Classroom

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Susan E. Rivers, PhD

If we want to create a classroom of students who can be self-aware and in control of their emotions and behaviors, we need to direct their attention to their minds, bodies, and behaviors. If we deconstruct the competencies they become feasible to implement in any classroom, and value-added beyond the lessons of Social and Emotional Learning!

Our youngest students need support moving out of egocentrism, a way of thinking and processing their world which dominates and overrides their ability to make accurate appraisals of themselves and others. As children make this transition, it is key to support their learning to accommodate new ways of thinking about themselves and others. Here are some ideas for embedding SEL in your daily interactions and lessons with your youngest students:

•Ask students to talk about their likes and dislikes, and to listen to the likes and dislikes of their peers
•Draw connections between feelings and behavior (when I feel angry, I yell; when I feel sad, I choose to be by myself)
•Show them how thoughts can be used to manage their feelings (when I feel angry, I think about something that calms me or sing a song that will make me calm)
•Help them set short-term goals and support them in achieving success

Older children are increasingly able to recognize their strengths and preferences, and differentiate themselves from their peers (i.e., “I may be the top student in my class at math, but I am never picked first for the soccer team; Sam always is”). They also have a growing capacity to think about thinking (“metacognitive strategies”) to support their learning and memory. Songs, rhymes, acronyms, and word games are productive and generalizable strategies to promote learning and attainment of new knowledge. Harness students’ expanding metacognitive capacities to explore the relationship between their self-regulation and success through a lens of self-awareness.

•Invite students to write, draw, or talk about their strengths and areas they want to grow into strengths
•Support students to regulate in regulating their emotions and behaviors, and practice behavioral control
•Practice goal setting for themselves and their classroom community

Adolescence is hallmarked by both the students’ belief that their experiences are the most extreme, unexpected, exciting, and different than anyone else ever has nor ever will experience (“You can’t possibly understand how my heart is broken right now!!!”) and an overwhelming focus on believing that they are the focus of everyone else’s attention (we call this the imaginary audience phenomena- “everyone is looking at me all the time and cares and critiques everything that I do”). Further complicated by an increased production of hormones, physiological and psychological changes, and increasing demands of school and home, this time period is particularly challenging across all learning domains. Educators can scaffold their students through the storm and stress of adolescence by using SEL strategies as a foundation can to help students get out of their own heads!

•Providing students with generalizable strategies for emotional and behavioral regulations
•Teach students to identify, appraising, and managing stress
•Promote situations to problem solve, set and execute goals, for self and others
•Evaluate what-if scenarios

What We Don’t Say: A SEL Approach to Helping Your Students Understand “Take a Knee”

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Lori Nathanson, Ph.D.

Even if you are not a football fan, it’s likely you’ve seen images from the NFL in the past few weeks. The action captured occurred before kickoff; players and coaches across the country have “taken a knee” or linked arms in solidarity during the national anthem. These powerful photos elicit a wide range of emotional responses that may contribute to conflict in our schools, homes, workplace, and on social media.

But they don’t have to end with conflict. Controversy can provide an opportunity to be constructive if we look through a social and emotional learning lens. Social awareness –the ability to take another person’s perspective and feel empathy– is a core competency of SEL. This competency is critical for creating and maintaining supportive relationships. It requires understanding social norms (how do I act in this situation or place?), as well as an understanding and appreciation that people have different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences and they may be different from one’s own background, culture, and experiences. This issue, these photos, and our emotional responses offer an opportunity to develop social awareness.

Have you heard (or said) the proverb, “A picture says a thousand words?” Explore with your students the kinds of emotions we can identify in these photos as well as the emotions these photos elicit in the viewer. Photos may show intense emotions, vehement disagreements, and sometimes violence, but for this purpose, let’s focus in on the individuals in these photos and what types of emotions we see expressed.

Consider this task. Give each of your students an index card. On one side of the card, ask students to identify one person in the photo and write down how they think that person feels in the moment captured. They can use emotion words, note body language, draw pictures or phrases to indicate how they perceive the person feels.

Next, direct your students to turn over the index card and write how they feel when they see the image of the athlete taking a knee. Again, students can use emotion words, draw pictures, or write phrases to express how they feel about the image.

• Are your students younger? Do the activity as a group or in small directed groups with larger pieces of paper. Use emojis or have them draw their own!

• Have more time? Have students trade their index card with another student. Review each partner’s responses and decide which perspective (Self or Photo) it represents. Take 3 minutes to review and decide which perspective each side represents. Have students discuss with their partner what went into making their decision. What did they notice that was the same? What words or interpretations did they have that were different?

• Are your students older? Have them work individually, collect the index cards from your class, shuffle them, and redistribute them back out to the class. Have your students read aloud the perceptions on the index cards.

Take it one step further. Combine all the reactions to make a word cloud or word wall; have each student place their reactions or those of their classmates up on the wall. Note, these will be mixed now that they are no longer the ones owning their perspective. As a group, decide if there are any emotions or descriptions that are missing and add them on index cards to the wall. Doing so will enable your students to recognize and identify the feelings and perspectives of self and others during group discussion.

Lastly, debrief with your students. In the activity, we focused on how the people in the photos felt or our reactions to the photos, but let’s take a minute to assess how we feel after spending time looking and analyzing the possible perspectives of those in the photographs, ourselves, and our classmates. Close your eyes if you are comfortable and sense what’s going on in your minds and bodies. Are thoughts swirling or calm? Does your body feel hot or cold or in between? Is your heart racing or steady? By moving your students to a debrief scenario, you will increase their social awareness, which promotes their ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

When faced with controversy, teach our students to see and feel what we don’t say; empower a future generation of empathetic thinkers. Share with us how you applied social awareness skills to support students with processing the “take a knee” controversy, or other powerful images and moments in history.