How to Teach SEL Skills

Several months ago I wrote a blog about Social and Emotional Learning that explored the basics of the concept.  CASEL is widely recognized as the authority on Social and Emotional Learning, as it’s five core competencies are emphasized in schools around the country.  My previous post examined these competencies and briefly discuss how to foster Social and Emotional Learning.

Today I’d like to look a bit closer at specific ways teachers and educators can implement Social and Emotional Learning in the school environment.  CASEL offers an excellent video in collaboration with Edutopia called 5 Keys to Social and Emotional Learning Success.  This video examines the 5 CASEL competencies and offers specific ways to teach and reinforce these concepts.  Most of the following definitions and ideas come directly from this video, so I give full credit to those who created it.

Self Awareness

The ability to identify emotions.

1.  Conflict Mediation

How do children learn to resolve their differences?  That starts with understanding their own emotions and recognizing how the conflict affects each person emotionally.  Practicing conflict mediation is a great way for students to become more in tune with their emotions before tensions get out of hand.

2.  Circles

I have heard this exercise called “Feelings Circles.”  The basic idea is that every student sits in a circle and has an equal voice.  The circle is considered a safe place where children can express their emotions.  A teacher should facilitate the circle so that no one dominates the conversation.

3.  Journaling

Often times students need quiet time to process and reflect on their own emotions.  This may be helpful prior to any group activity like conflict mediation or circles.  Taking a long, hard look in the mirror can give students a true evaluation of themselves and their current emotional state.

Self Management

The ability to regulate one’s own emotions.

1.  Breathing Exercises

This is something we emphasize in our school on a daily basis.  It’s amazing what three deep breaths will do to calm our emotions and get us back to a clear headspace.  It can also be beneficial for teachers to lead their students through guided breathing exercises prior to the start of class.

2.  Count to Five

Similar to breathing exercises, counting to five can give students just enough time to stop and consider their emotional reaction.  It only takes a few seconds to reset our mind frame and become more open-minded.  However, it’s hard to realize this in the moment, so proactive practice is important.

3.  Take a Break

We expect students to attend school for about 7 straight hours.  This isn’t realistic for everyone.  It’s ok for students to take a break throughout the day, especially if stress and anxiety is building up.  As a school counselor, I have many kids who stop in my office for a few minutes simply to take a break.

Social Awareness

The ability to embrace diversity and demonstrate empathy for others.

1.  Service Learning Projects

Our school requires all students to participate in a week-long mission trip the week before spring break.  This is the single most impactful thing we do as a school.  It opens our students eyes to the needs of others and instills a sense of selflessness that isn’t always present.

2.  Addressing Social Justice Issues

People tend to feel most comfortable around people who look and sound just like themselves.  However, this does not necessarily foster social awareness.  Educators have a responsibility to discuss openly and respectfully social justice issues, such as race, gender, and political conflicts that exist in society.

3.  Roll Playing

We often hear the phrase, “How would you feel if you were in their shoes?”  Roll playing gives students a chance to do this.  It can be a valuable learning lesson to pretend you are someone different and experience things that you normally wouldn’t.  Teachers must ensure this activity is carried out in a respectful way.

Relationship Skills

The ability to work cooperatively with someone.

1.  Conflict Resolution

If students work together long enough inevitably conflict will arise.  It is important that students realize conflict is a healthy part of relationships as long as it does not escalate to the point someone is hurt.  Teachers can moderate conflict resolution by keeping students after class or inviting them in for lunch.

2.  “Bullying”

This word was mentioned in the video in conjunction with Relationship Skills.  Bullying is almost always the byproduct of poor relationships.  Schools must provide an environment that fosters relationships between students and teachers.  When every student is known, incidents of bullying go way down.

3.  Advisory

Though this wasn’t discussed in the video, advisory programs are an integral part of Social and Emotional Learning.  Advisory periods should be a safe place for students to raise concerns with teachers, and in turn, teachers provide guidance for students.

Responsible Decision Making

The ability to consider the well-being for self and others.

1.  Shared Agreements

When two people can respect each other, we often put an agreement in place that both students (and often time parents) agree to.  It usually revolves around respecting each other and agreeing not to engage in any disrespectful behavior.  These agreements help alleviate poor decision making.

2.  One-to-One Problem Solving

Teaching kids to talk respectfully to one another to resolve their conflicts is a top priority.  Counselors, in particular, should encourage these interactions on a regular basis.  The more students learn to talk to one another about their difference, the better decision making they will have in general.

3.  Students Debate the Issue

Students almost always have opinions on things.  And most times these opinions are all over the place.  This can certainly be a source of conflict.  Teachers can engage students in debates on topics that cause conflict and guide them to a mutual understanding that differences are ok.

There is a great deal of overlap among the 5 SEL competencies, so naturally there is a lot of overlap in the specific activities educators can incorporate to promote them.  However, the overall message is clear; teachers have a responsibility to create safe environments in which students can explore their relationships with others and themselves.  Doing so will lead to happier, more productive students.