The ABCs of SEL: How to help your students develop emotional and intellectual intelligence
In a year that can only be described as anything but normal and as both teachers and students have been forced to change and adapt time and time again, it seems only natural for educators to use this time to focus on emotional intelligence as much as academic intelligence. While there has been endless talk of learning loss and all our students haven't had this past year, there's also a beautiful opportunity to teach critical social and emotional skills that will help them persevere not only through the end of the pandemic and the 2020-2021 school year but for life as well!
So, what exactly is social emotional learning, and how can you incorporate these principles into your classroom?
A self-aware student (or teacher!) is someone who can understand their own emotions, values, and belief systems. They are mindful of their thoughts and their inner dialogue. People with this skill have a solid sense of their strengths and have self-confidence even while acknowledging their limitations. These are big skills that don't just magically develop overnight, and they are not necessarily intuitive. The following activities can help your students become more self-aware.
Activities to Try for Self-Awareness
#1 - Journaling: This is a great way to begin supporting students in becoming more self-aware. You can provide free time where students are directed to write about anything that they are thinking or feeling or provide a journal prompt to aid in the exploration of their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Students may also enjoy using self-awareness worksheets as they begin to identify some of their thoughts and feelings. If they are comfortable, invite them to complete the template and share it with you. This will give you great insight and help you get to know your students!
#2 - Read-Alouds: Self-awareness can seem like a bit of an abstract concept, in part, because it is a bit abstract! Students need to be introduced to the idea in context. This can be done naturally through read-alouds and book clubs. These picture books and discussion questions will support students in identifying feelings and emotions and how those influence decisions.
#3 - Goal Setting: Setting and achieving goals will help your students identify and embrace their strengths while being aware of their limitations. Support your students in setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and relevant, time-limited and trackable) goals and then help them celebrate when they achieve them!
While the first step is to be aware of your thoughts and emotions, the next step is to learn to manage them. The goal is to help students learn to manage emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a healthy way that leads to the achievement of goals in varied situations. This may mean delaying gratification, finding motivation for an undesirable task, or learning to manage stress.
Activities to Try for Self-Management
#1 - Grounding: Contrary to what the name may imply, this is not a punishment! Grounding techniques are quick activities that students can do to help manage their emotions. Students can hold an object and focus on its traits, take ten deep breaths and focus on the rise and fall of their chests, or listen to a song that helps them feel calm or energized, depending on what they need in the moment.
#2 - Checklists and Rubrics: Educators can empower students to take ownership of their choices, behavior, and work by helping to structure expectations and organize progress. Checklists and rubrics can spur the learning momentum. As students make progress and check action items off their to-do lists, they will feel accomplished and excited! As they check their work against rubrics and other co-created assessment tools, they will feel encouraged!
Equally important to understanding and regulating personal emotions is the need to understand and empathize with others. Being socially aware means that someone is able to understand and respect the diverse perspectives of others. Feeling compassion for those from different cultures or those with different social norms and behavior is all part of developing social awareness.
Activities to Try for Social Awareness
#1 - Look and Listen: While it might not always be possible to introduce our students to diverse neighbors in person, there is a multitude of quick video resources that make it possible for us to expose them to unique perspectives and personalities. These video resources from PBS allow you to filter by grade level and find age-appropriate videos that can be used as conversation-starters and opportunities to develop empathy and respect for those who are different from us.
#2 - Perspective Check: No two people will ever view the exact same situation in the exact same way. If one student writes the number six, a person standing on the other side of the paper may see the number 9. Neither student is wrong; they simply have different perspectives of the same situation. Helping students identify varying perspectives is a phenomenal way to help them develop empathy. These free social skill lesson activities are a great resource as you seek to help your students begin to see the world through another's eyes and become more understanding and empathetic along the way.
Relationships are critical! Students need to learn how to establish and maintain healthy relationships. Learning how to communicate clearly, listen well, and work collaboratively with classmates and colleagues is critical! Students need to learn how to problem-solve, resolve conflict, and effectively and respectfully work alongside others whose opinions and beliefs may differ from their own.
Activities to Try for Relationship Skills
#1 - Turn and Talk (but not about school!): Many teachers enjoy using the "Turn and Talk" strategy to engage students in academic discourse, but you can also use it as a way to help foster relationships in your classroom. This strategy, along with others, such as exit tickets, round-robin share-outs, and more, can help your students learn to communicate and build relationships with one another.
#2 - Make a Menu: Disagreements are part of healthy relationships. Help your students learn how to manage conflict respectfully by creating a menu of possible responses and resolution strategies students can use when they find themselves in conflict with a classmate. They can choose to walk away, use an "I feel _______ when_______" statement to express their feelings, or scale the problem. You may want to consider creating a class poster that lists resolution suggestions and have your students add additional ideas throughout the year.
Ultimately, emotional intelligence supports students in making wise choices. We want students to be able to make good decisions about their personal behavior as these decisions ultimately impact those around them and society as a whole. Emotionally intelligent students can consider ethical as well as safety standards. They have the ability to process through potential benefits and consequences before making rash decisions.
Activities to Try for Responsible Decision-making
#1 - One Step at a Time: There are several steps students should work through when learning to make responsible decisions. These decision-making map graphic organizers help them identify their problem, gather relevant information, brainstorm possible solutions, think through potential consequences and ultimately make a choice. Becoming fluent in these steps will help to deter students from making rash decisions and become aware of the way their personal decisions affect those around them.
#2 - Yes or No?: Quick question games like "Would You Rather?" are a fun way to encourage classroom conversations. They also help students begin the process of justifying their decisions. To help further support your students in making responsible decisions, you could use the Making Choices song or a similar series of yes/no questions. The song starts with fairly easy yes and no questions and then progresses to more complex issues where students need to weigh out potential consequences and process through emotions associated with each situation.
Students do not enter our classrooms with emotional intelligence, and it is not a concept that can be taught in ten-minute blocks sprinkled in once a week and then checked off in our planners. Rather, it is something that should be integrated into all we do! Use these suggested strategies as a starting point to help your students grow emotionally as well as academically!