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SEL for Student Wellness with Jorge Valenzuela

Jorge Valenzuela and Hāpara’s Rich Dixon discuss the significance of SEL and steps for successfully implementing it in classrooms.
Product Updates December 2022-01

In this webinar, Jorge Valenzuela and Hāpara’s Rich Dixon discuss the significance of SEL and steps for successfully implementing it in classrooms. Jorge Valenzuela is a nationally known education expert in the United States. As a keynote speaker, author and professional development leader, he uses action research to help schools and educators integrate SEL into instruction.

What is SEL? Why should we care as teachers?

(2:01) Rich asks Jorge to define SEL and why it’s important for teachers. Jorge explains that SEL is social and emotional learning. It is an instructional approach that focuses on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. These areas are important because they help learners of all ages develop emotional intelligence skills. (2:35) Jorge thinks these skills are just as important as career skills. Some states now call them life skills. He believes it’s important to integrate it into the curricula in all schools.

(2:48) Rich wants to point out that, at least in the United States, the term SEL can be seen as inflammatory in some parts of the country. But at the heart of it, it’s exactly what Jorge said. It’s about caring about the well-being of students and building success skills that are transferable, not just for the moment they are being taught.

How do SEL skills show up in the classroom? How does a teacher promote them? 

(3:28) Rich asks Jorge to share how learners can apply SEL skills in the classroom. Jorge starts with why they should use these skills. He explains that educators need to look at the research so they can understand the pain points of who they are supporting. If you look at CDC data, there are important research studies that show that the COVID-19 pandemic really impacted young people emotionally because of isolation and dealing with learning loss. Now they’re back at school, and it’s emotionally very taxing. 

(4:35) Jorge explains that there’s also research that shows that a lot of young people are not happy at home. Additionally, teachers are at the front lines of seeing the effects of these issues. A RAND survey in 2021 found that teaching has become the most stressful profession out there. So needing help with emotions is one of the needs, not just of students, but also teachers. 

(5:13) Further, Jorge explains that we need to look at what the research says for a teacher to be able to understand young people as learners, and also as people. That’s the social part. Young people also need to think about how they are showing up with themselves and other people, which is social awareness. 

(5:46) Just like career skills, educators can integrate SEL skills into projects, performance tasks and activities. Self-awareness is knowing why you do what you do. It’s acknowledgment of self, knowing who you are. Jorge and the educators he works with have been providing young people with tools, resources and frameworks for self-awareness and SEL skills. For example, they integrate SEL into personal narratives, empathy mapping and a decision-making matrix involving mathematics. They find ways to integrate life skills into what students are already learning. 

(6:57) Rich points out that Jorge has mentioned several great resources. Jorge notes that educators can find resources he’s written as free reproducibles from Solution Tree, which are from his book. Rich says that educators will want to check those out and incorporate them into their instruction.

How does SEL align with differentiated learning?

(7:30) Rich explains that when we talk about differentiated learning, which is the foundation of what Hāpara offers in its Instructional Suite, we want to make sure that students are taken care of in the context of a classroom. Part of that is meeting the needs of every learner. That includes learners’ emotional needs and social needs that support and lay the foundation for successful learning. In Rich’s experience as a former classroom teacher and administrator, the learning environment needs to be safe and welcoming in order to do so.

What is an example of how SEL is incorporated? Why is that so powerful for a learner?

(8:22) Jorge uses a Youth Empowerment Portfolio in his work with young people. They start with personal narratives, which he describes to them as painting a picture about their life or an event with words. He starts with knowledge of self and asks them to write a personal narrative about anything that interests them about themselves, including music, religion or other aspects of their culture. It sets the stage for becoming self-aware, which then leads to social awareness. 

(9:45) Jorge emphasizes that school leaders need to listen to their teachers. The classroom will always be the incubator for what is needed in the school. Also, teachers are the most prominent experts of young people. He highly recommends that when a school integrates a tool like those he’s mentioned, it should be introduced to everyone at the same time. Then they should have a chance to practice and implement feedback.

What does feedback look like when educators incorporate a new SEL strategy?

(11:10) Jorge says that it’s important to pay attention to high-yielding strategies, which are strategies that we know work in education because they lead to high academic achievement or engagement. Jorge looks at John Hattie’s work and implements it his own way. One of the biggest factors that makes a learner engaged is feedback. Feedback should be ongoing and treated as a type of formative assessment to make sure instruction is landing the right way. Jorge does this with three drafts and feedback loops. Students learn to ask for and receive feedback, which then becomes part of the classroom culture. They can then take that skill beyond the classroom.

Can you unpack more about your book on SEL?

(14:37) Rich strongly suggests that educators look into Jorge’s book Raising Equity through SEL because it’s practical and research-based, which includes the work of John Hattie. Rich notes that Hāpara is also founded on John Hattie’s work. Jorge’s book is a joint publication between Solution Tree and ISTE. Aside from keynote speaking, PD, working with teachers and conferences, he also carries out action research with school districts about SEL in the classroom. 

(17:51) Additionally, he says that it’s essential for teachers to be aware of their own emotional intelligence, biases, trauma and triggers before they can help young people understand SEL. Research also shows that educators need to be able to see learners as people to help them practice SEL. 

(19:53) Jorge explains that the action research and high-yielding strategies are included in his book, as well as the five steps educators can take to incorporate SEL. 

(21:03) Rich says that the blend of research and practical steps is the key to the magic of what Jorge is doing. Rich invites educators to think through their current practice, as well as how they can better support their learners and their wholeness through thinking about SEL.

Bio and contact:

Jorge Valenzuela

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