If you could use one word, what would you say the world ought to look like?
The work of making the world the place it ought to be is what social-emotional learning (SEL) is all about. Helping students find their why, their joy, and their purpose is an incredible benefit of being a teacher – and this is our time to help encourage student agency, resilience, and joy.
As we transition into the 2020-2021 school year, students are coming to us with a lot of questions, including questions about COVID-19, job security, protests, and how to navigate virtual learning. How can we honor these questions and perspectives? How can we build relationships with our students that show that we hear them, see them, and value them? We can start by using an integrative approach to SEL – one that is comprehensive, used throughout the day, and followed up in the home environment.
I humbly offer a few ways to integrate SEL into your virtual or in-person classroom environments that validate the experiences of our students over the past few months and help them navigate this ever-changing world.
1. LISTEN deeply to students.
Students have had a long time to think about COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the events of this year as they have unfolded. As we begin the school year, teachers have the opportunity to model listening and reflection by giving students space to share their thoughts. By listening first before teaching, we are showing our students that there is space for them to share their questions, curiosities, and opinions. We are showing them that we care about what they have to say.
2. Teach what you truly value.
We are walking models for our children, and our choices send clear messages to our students about what we value. On matters of police brutality and social and civic action, we have the choice to encourage dialogue or remain silent. Our response to the mistreatment of others is an example of teaching what we value.
Note: we need to approach conversations about SEL and equity by first acknowledging where we are in our antiracist work. This is continuous and requires constant reflection. I recommend www.casel.org/equity for a great place to start.
3. Help students FIND THEIR JOY.
The truth of the matter is students are not a blank slate; rather, they are young people with opinions and interests. It is our job as educators to listen and help them find their joy and purpose, not to create it for them.
4. Incorporate CULTURE, CHARACTER, and CONTEXT.
A great way to help students see themselves in the classroom environment is to provide mirrors and windows. Introduced by the SEED Project, a mirror is a story that reflects a child’s identity, culture, or experience. A window is a resource that offers a view into someone else’s experience. Mirrors and windows help children develop self-awareness, perspective, and a recognition that there is a history not told by the winners. Providing a wide array of books with diverse characters is a start, as well as incorporating a history curriculum that celebrates contributions of people from all ethnic backgrounds.
5. Hold space for students to name emotions.
Children should be encouraged to harness their emotions to share their experiences. As educators, we must invite children to share their emotions and allow the emotions to sit in the [virtual] classroom. As Audre Lorde told us about anger, “Focused with precision, [anger] can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.”
6. Build TRUST with families.
Consistency and exposure is key for students to develop SEL skills. It is critical that educators reach out to families and do our best to learn about them, provide SEL resources to reinforce emotional development at home, and show our students that teachers and adults at home are aligned. For a few examples of SEL resources for the home environment, check out MindUP at Home resources for families.
In closing, we must remember that integrating SEL in isolation will not bring about transformational change for students. We are in this work for the long game, and beginning to integrate SEL into your classroom will have a lasting impact on students as they grow. The purpose of integrating SEL and activism is to help students connect with themselves, others, make sense of the world around them, and take action. As educators, we must provide windows and mirrors to help students speak up, take action, and come together as a community.