Fostering SEL Skills Through Intervention in Problem Behaviors

by Kristen Hopkins

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“Know your POWER so that your INFLUENCE can live up to it.”

Kristen Hopkins

I came up with this quote in 2016 after seeing some of my most troubled students lives transformed through Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). But it wasn’t just SEL that transformed their lives; it was me knowing my power and understanding that that same power had influence — influence to change the narrative of “troubled youth” by changing my perspective first.

Being around students that had major trauma and who lived in high poverty conditions made me first understand that they are not all the same. I took the time to get to know each and every student in my program. I learned about their families, their strengths, their weakness, their mistakes and their fears. One of my students told me I just had to remember his name and he would respect me. He then explained that his teachers would never say his name correctly and that he was named after his deceased father. That was his trigger to act out, and I would have never found that out if I didn’t ask. Taking the time to build these relationships allowed me to know how I would relate and interact with students as well as plan proactive strategies before negative patterned behaviors could arise. 

For so long we’ve labeled our “at-risk” students and put them into a box before getting to know them. To bring about new solutions that would help me connect with students, I had to first shift my own personal paradigm.

In his book Start with Why, Simon Sineck writes, “If we are starting with the wrong questions, if we don’t understand the cause, then even the right answers could steer us wrong.” I had to understand the “WHY.”

WHY was a student behaving this way?

WHY is this so hard for this student?

After I understood some of their patterns, I started to ask my students what was their WHY. This is what made me realize that many students didn’t know their WHY: WHY they came to school, WHY they wanted to graduate, WHY they wanted to do better. So guess what? They would miss school, they didn’t get good grades, and they didn’t want to do better.

When students facing challenging behaviors don’t have a WHY, it can be difficult to make room for social-emotional skills to form. 

I have a former student that didn’t voice her opinions while class was in session, but always wanted to talk about the topic after class. I started to realize that she had great ideas but wasn’t confident enough to speak up. She was too worried about what her peers thought of her. Many students feel the same way, but some respond by acting out because they think it’s the cool thing to do and they want attention from their peers.

One of the best places to target a child with behavior challenges is when you can interact with them one-on-one. When a student is sent to in-school suspension or a Restorative Practice Center, it can become a great space to conduct real intervention and incorporate Social and Emotional Learning. This can only happen if this space has structure and the teacher has control over the space.

Students typically come into these environments upset due to being kicked out of class. Positive attention skills, such as cultivating a warm and engaging style when students enter, can shift the mood of a child. Using active listening techniques to hear a student’s side of the story instead of automatically assuming that they are wrong allows a student to open up. In this way you can began to build a rapport with the child.

Research shows us that punishment does not change negative behaviors, however a respectful consequence along with a “teaching”  component implemented consistently can change behavior. When we first acknowledge the positive behaviors that students have, it begins a dialog.

Once you establish a good rapport it’s time for some self-reflection. This allows a student to understand how to make responsible decisions in the future that will keep them from being kicked out of class.  Coming up with solutions together to replace the negative behaviors will give the student a voice and allow them to feel an ownership of the decision process. This is not only encouraging for students thinking and expression of ideas, but also for their autonomy and self-direction. 

Once you have guided them to a solution, then it’s time to set goals while promoting intrinsic motivation. Giving students who struggle with behavior challenges incentives is not the best solution, but allowing them to feel internal satisfaction for good behavior is a very effective way to ensure consistent growth. 

Fostering Social-Emotional Skills through intervention first starts with the educator and the tone that’s set for intervention.  So just like the quotation I included in the beginning, we all have power. Understanding how your power can influence your most challenging students will help produce amazing stories of resilience.


Kristen Hopkins is an author, educator, social-entrepreneur, motivational speaker and community impact strategist with over a decade of experience in producing research-based community empowerment programs. Kristen began her work with the award-winning company, Dangers of the Mind (DOM), in 2014 when she published a book of the same title. She later decided to expand DOM into a consultancy and lifestyle brand with a mission to reach, teach and empower future pioneers by helping them recognize and harness their intrinsic power. Since its inception, Kristen has educated over 2500 youth in the United States, Ghana, and Haiti through Dangers of the Mind and she has reached even more participants via DOM’s digital programming including a podcast, virtual coaching, Danger Zone Power Calls, the clothing line, a collective of brand ambassadors and more. Kristen is committed to being the voice advocating for at-promised youth and looks to continue her research, teaching and advocacy work for Social-Emotional responsive resources.

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.

6 Reasons We Love Social Emotional Learning (And You Should Too!)

If you’ve been to a conference, spoken with colleagues, or read the news lately, you’ve probably been hearing quite a lot about Social Emotional Learning, or SEL. SEL helps students by promoting self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. If you don’t already love SEL, here are 6 reasons why you should:

  1. Students learn how to deal with complex emotions. Navigating emotions can be difficult, especially for children and teens. In fact, a child or teen commits suicide every 3 hours and 33 minutes. One of the major focuses of SEL programs is to help students successfully regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different scenarios. This helps students change their way of thinking to better manage stress, motivate themselves, and make better decisions.
  2. Teachers feel less stressed. According to a recent survey, 73% of educators report feeling stressed often at work, and 24% report feeling sometimes stressed at work. These educators also report feeling emotionally or physically exhausted at the end of the day. SEL programs can help improve student success, which certainly helps reduce educator stress. Additionally, educators can benefit from improving their own SEL skills, by learning how to manage stress, make better decisions, and communicate with others more effectively.
  3. SEL provides schools with a bullying prevention toolkit. Students who are bullied are twice as likely as their non-bullied peers to develop negative health effects. According to the CDC, defiant & disruptive behaviors are associated with engaging in bullying behavior, while poor peer relationships & low self-esteem are associated with a higher likelihood of being bullied. SEL programs help students improve their ability to empathize and take the perspective of others, respect others, negotiate conflict, and seek help when needed. SEL programs also help to increase self-confidence.
  4. Students are more employable. According to a recent report, employers are looking for employees who have strong communication skills, are self-motivated, able to solve problems independently, and work well with others. These are all skills SEL programs focus on!
  5. Students are less likely to be incarcerated. A longitudinal study found that the level of aggression exhibited by children at the age of eight is a strong predictor of criminal events over the next 22 years. With current statistics showing that a student is arrested every 31 seconds, we should all be looking at strategies to prevent conduct problems & reduce aggression in our schools. SEL programs help students develop impulse control, respect others, and make ethical decisions.
  6. School districts save money! For every dollar school districts invest in SEL interventions, there is a return of 11 dollars! An 11:1 return on investment is pretty fantastic!

 

Join the movement: Check out Rethink Ed’s upcoming SEL product line.

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.

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.