In September of this year, I met with a group of teachers to consider how to welcome back students into their classrooms after a year of online learning. Our agenda for the day was to consider ways to rebuild community and look at relationships for learning. The agenda also included how to adjust our Hāpara Workspaces to support and reinforce our purpose. As we worked that day, we made the decision to focus on adding SEL language to our Workspaces.
What is a Hāpara Workspace?
Using language in your classroom
We started by moving through a facilitated conversation and self-reflection. As we did, we shared a moment of complete clarity. It was one that changed and shaped the conversation in a profound way. The moment was provoked by this question:
Does the language you use in your classroom reflect your beliefs, values and intended learning outcomes?"
When I asked the question there was a long moment of silence as folks considered it. Slowly, people started to sit up, lean in and engage in the conversation in a new way. One educator asked me to clarify how her beliefs might shape learning outcomes and language in her classroom.
Earlier in the day she had mentioned how student choice and voice was really important to her. She believed that for learners to fully engage and take academic risks, they needed choice and voice in their learning environment. I asked her how she honored this belief in her task design, classroom language and cultural norms. She didn’t know. I asked her to use her most recent Hāpara Workspace as an artifact for reflection. Could she see her values represented in the Workspace?
Reviewing how Workspaces support values, beliefs and learning outcomes
I moved the conversation forward by asking teachers to partner up. They had to share a link to a Workspace they’d created and spend 20 minutes reviewing each other’s Workspaces. They would consider what values, beliefs and learning outcomes were supported by the Workspace.
After reviewing the Workspaces, teachers shared their reflections with the Workspace creator. Then they found another group and partnered with them to reflect on what they learned from the exercise. As we were reflecting as a large group, several teachers asked if we could pause the planned agenda. They wanted to have time to edit their Workspaces to match what they had learned from our conversation.
Adding SEL language into Workspace designs
When we came back as a group, I asked them if we could continue working together off script. They agreed. I felt that it would be important to meet the goals for the day if we included SEL language in the design of their Workspaces. If we were to really investigate ways to rebuild a learning community, we needed to incorporate social emotional learning into their Workspace design and language.
I asked them if we could review their Workspaces to include the three components from CASEL’s SEL-Focused Classroom:
- a supportive classroom climate
- integration of SEL into academic instruction
- explicit SEL instruction.
Round one: Examining SEL language to create a supportive classroom climate
First, we examined each Workspace card from the perspective of a supportive classroom climate.
A supportive classroom climate helps students to feel emotionally safe, part of a community of learners, motivated, and challenged. This type of environment creates a strong foundation for students to engage fully and take academic risks. This includes: community-building, belonging and emotional safety, and student-centered discipline. – CASEL 2021
During round one, teachers examined the SEL language they used to invite their learners into the Workspace. They also looked at how they were using their task design to create a learning community. How were students encouraged to take risks and demonstrate what they know, understand and can do?
We decided that each Workspace should have a clear beginning. That way students know very clearly how to navigate through their learning environment. We thought the SEL language should be welcoming and carefully selected to ensure learners consider the purpose of having a Workspace.
We thought that each Workspace should also have very clear guidelines for how learners can be successful.
We then looked at how to create community and ensure learners feel safe to take risks. We agreed that part of each Workspace must have cards dedicated to classroom agreements learners co-create.
For students to have agency for their learning, they need clearly stated learning intentions. These need to be developmentally-appropriate and specific to the learning environment.
To ensure student choice and to support all learners, teachers created a few versions of their learning intentions.
The various versions of learning intentions will be assigned to different cohorts of students.
All learners need a clear target to be successful, take risks and to fully engage. Make sure that your targets are accessible for all your learners.
We agreed that we might include this card in the second or third column. That way learners can have an opportunity to inform the conversation.
Round two: Examining SEL integration in academic instruction
Next we examined each Workspace card from the perspective of integration of SEL into academic instruction.
Integration of SEL into academic instruction weaves academic learning with opportunities for students to practice and reflect on social and emotional competencies, such as perspective-taking and developing a growth mindset. For example, teachers might incorporate partner and group activities that promote relationships, communication skills, and effective teamwork. – CASEL 2021
During round two, teachers examined if they were pairing learning with:
- opportunities for students to practice and reflect on different perspectives
- ways of knowing and developing their own values and beliefs based on what they learned
We examined a lot of different ways to provide choice for learners. One way that really resonated with folks was to create a choose-your-own-adventure evidence card. Students could also propose new options for demonstrating their learning.
They won’t come to class knowing how to use choice effectively. They need to have it modelled, coached and explained to them clearly with language that they understand.
We talked about the value of exit slips to check on student learning. We also discussed the importance of their ability to empathize, problem solve and apply their new learning to an authentic situation.
We also wanted to ensure that different perspectives were being considered by learners. We talked about creating opportunities for them to consider other points of view or ways of gathering knowledge about a different topic.
How might we create a culture for reflection?
Elementary teachers talked about creating opportunities for learners to STOP and THINK. They created a common header to cue learners they needed to be ready to share something. It could be what they are thinking about, wondering or have just learned.
Secondary teachers talked about creating specific learning reflections. This would help students do a deeper dive with their thinking and be challenged to consider some reciprocity for their learning.
Round three: Examining explicit SEL instruction
For this round, we examined each Workspace card from the perspective of explicit SEL instruction.
Explicit SEL instruction provides consistent opportunities to cultivate, practice, and reflect on social and emotional competencies in ways that are developmentally appropriate and culturally responsive. – CASEL 2021
Teachers examined their Workspaces to ensure they attended to equity and cultural responsiveness. They also analyzed accuracy in their formative assessment practices.
The rubber hits the road when the lenses of belonging, inclusion, diversity and equity are put to each card in a Workspace.
During this round we integrated each choice to ensure it was inclusive and provided and respected diversity. We also made sure there was equity for each group in navigating their Workspace. Can each learner see themself in the Workspace?
Are there opportunities in the Workspace task design to have learners’ cultural experiences incorporated, embraced and/or celebrated in daily instruction?
Do learners know they can embrace and share their native language? Do they know they can leverage their family experiences as assets to demonstrate their learning?
How do the design, colors and images represent and respect all learners?
As we closed off our time together, the room was buzzing. Instead of being in a hurry to head back to our own lives and practices, folks sat around for a while debriefing and sharing ideas. Educators also shared the hope that they were on track to creating Workspaces with SEL language. Their improved Workspaces would support a community of learners rather than a group of individual learners.