4 ways to use SEL in any learning environment

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Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features the perspectives of renowned education experts and leaders on hot issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

All teachers know that educational success depends on strong bonds between them and their students. With an increased focus on socio-emotional learning, educators are also realizing that creating a safe and nurturing environment also means helping students recognize and deal with their emotions; take care of others; and, forging positive relationships and making responsible decisions.

The global pandemic has placed more emphasis on SEL, which only four or five years ago was seen more as an extra curriculum – something to be done on a Monday morning in order to ‘tick a box’. Now considered fundamental, SEL plays a much larger role in K-12 education. As schools continue to adopt and use SEL education programs, we find that many of them need help in integrating learning into daily teaching.

Here are four ways to get started using SEL in any learning environment.

Start with teachers

Start with professional development and strive to help teachers, staff, and administration understand how to integrate socio-economic learning into the classroom. Socio-emotional learning is not a program, and it is not just one more thing that is “taught”. It should be built into everything you do on campus.

Make it virtual

The pandemic brought students home to learn remotely, but that didn’t mean they had to leave their SEL behind in the process. Using technology, you can conduct your professional development virtually and continue to share mindsets and experiences with students via the web. And while there is no real replacement for in-person learning, given the circumstances, we have all had to act and adapt.

Use interactive tools to involve everyone

Design an interactive experience that takes advantage of technology and offers insight into the personal lives of students and teachers. It will help schools connect deeper, and in a different way than they did before (when they were in class). Tools like online chats and peer discussions help engage everyone.

Don’t expect one size to fit all

There is no single answer when it comes to SEL. Schools should strive to understand what they are going through: where is the problem? Is it bad morale? Is it the late students or the bad grades? Is it a lack of community involvement? Then, use this information to create a plan that incorporates SEL concepts in the most logical way.

I hope that out of all the chaos schools have endured over the past year will come a more intentional attention to our humanity, our connections and our relationships. We need to be there for each other and support each other more. I believe that better times are ahead and that educators can work together to advance socio-cultural learning in the classroom in a way that creates an even brighter future.

Lupita Knittel is president of 7 Mindsets. For a larger discussion on how to integrate SEL into any learning environment, check out the How SEL Needs to Work in Everyday Teaching and Learning podcast.

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