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SEL is foundational–not just one more thing to do

How do you make social emotional learning the foundation of teaching? Adelee Penner discusses how you can design instruction through the lens of SEL.
SEL is not another thing on the plate. It is the plate.
SEL is not another thing on the plate. It is the plate.

Blog series: Spotlighting SEL in the Hāpara-supported classroom

This blog series is designed to provide educators with examples from the classroom of how the Hāpara Instructional Suite can be used to support social emotional learning (SEL). We will explore themes from Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs as well as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework for applying evidence-based SEL strategies to your classroom.

A colleague and I were chatting about social emotional learning (SEL) and its significance to our work. We were musing about how we might help folks see SEL as not just another thing on their plate. SEL is not an item we slot in for an hour each day. It is the foundation for our work. It is the plate.

Essential conditions for social emotional learning

We know that social emotional learning is teachable and should be a priority of classrooms, schools and communities. If we start with the end in mind, we know the essential conditions for learning and growth mindset. We understand what teachers and learners need to be able to tackle academic challenges and for SEL to be effective.

The well-being of administrators, teachers and learners needs to be promoted in the context of a compassionate, caring and supportive school. So why now? We know that this current context is one, like no other, where we need to constantly focus on our learners’ health and well-being. 

  • How can we be effective in creating a compassionate, caring and supportive context in our classrooms? 
  • How can we use the Hāpara Instructional Suite to support the culture we are building in our classroom? 
  • How do we create opportunities for learner voices to lead and shape the discussion?

Last week, as I worked with a group of teachers, we explored how we might create opportunities to hear from learners about their well-being in a meaningful way. One of the teachers shared that she takes time to ask the questions, “How are you doing today? How can we (the class) help support you? What are things that are going really well in your learning?”  

As we continued the conversation, I asked the question, “How do you know that your students are providing authentic answers to your questions and are not providing compliance comments?” The group wasn’t sure.

Authentic voices in the foundation of SEL

I shared a story with them. A team that I was leading was committed to self-care. We started each meeting sharing our self-care journey to be accountable to each other and to ensure that we were in fact, engaging in self-care. 

The first time we shared as a group it was authentic, honest and empowering. By our third meeting, I noticed that sharing was much quicker. Folks had a quick/prepared answer and we had lost the authenticity and meaning of the first share. 

Taking a page from Angela Stockman and her work with “loose parts,” we spread bits and bobs out on the table, and then I asked each member to create a representation of how they were doing with the loose parts. 

We, for the second time in the meeting, took turns sharing. This was much more authentic, tear-filled and meaningful. One of our teammates bravely shared that she wasn’t doing well. She could hide behind our protocol and give a quick self-care report. However, when the script was flipped, she was forced to share authentically and face how she was really doing.  

The takeaway for me was that for us to stay authentic we cannot create a process that folks can hide behind.  

The takeaway for our group was to consider ways to establish the norm for learner voice in the foundation of their SEL, but not to create processes in our classrooms that create compliance. What might this look like?

Student Dashboard announcements

Come to class tomorrow with a song title that best describes how you are feeling about adding fractions.

I am excited to hear from you tomorrow about how you are planning to show what you know, understand and can do in relation to our dilemma about equity in our class discussions.

Hāpara Workspace

Class check-in
Class check-in

Both of these Hāpara Workspace examples show ideas of student voice. However, without choice and ability to personalize, these will quickly become compliance activities once again. 

This is the perfect time to have students create their own check-in activities or to have them take turns creating the daily check-in. Having peers pose the question and suggest how to demonstrate how they are doing is really powerful. It will be more intellectually engaging and feel more authentic to your learners.

Helping learners build capacity in the SEL classroom

Having considered the merits of a daily, bi-weekly and weekly check-in, our thoughts quickly turned to other ways for learners to have a voice in the SEL classroom. We recognized that we will need to teach, coach and train students to have a voice in their learning.  

How could we help students learn to suggest activities that would build capacity in an area of weakness?

Ideas to keep moving

Our thoughts very quickly turned to how we currently use our Workspaces and how we provide opportunities for students to participate in the design of their learning. Do we create chances in our Workspaces for students to build capacity in ways that intellectually engage or spark them?  

One way to do that is to create opportunities for reflection and practice. For example if a student is struggling in math, you might provide opportunities to learn to read sheet music, play chess, cook or bake. They could also build, fabricate or create different electrical circuits.  

Creating space for learners to design their own practice using authentic tasks is rich and supports an assessment-ready student. They are more likely to take risks and problem solve if through your coaching they are able to:

  • clearly identify areas where they struggle
  • practice working through their errors in an engaging way. 

It provides a healthy break from one task to self-regulate without having to leave the learning environment. These students are also ready to engage in indicating what they know, understand and can do.

Creating a classroom culture of compassion, care and support provides a foundation for a growth mindset. Learning needs a foundation of SEL. In every learning task, routine or academic challenge we must design using the lens of SEL.

Discover how a South Carolina school district supports SEL with browser monitoring.

Watch the video to hear why Highlights helps educators like Kathryn combine monitoring with social and emotional learning.
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