3 Steps to Ensure Students Succeed With SEL
1. Set Success Goals to Include Social Skills
The old approach of focusing on only academic learning objectives has a shelf life that lasts much shorter than an investment into a child that includes developing social awareness. Setting goals for students that are based on how well the student demonstrates social-emotional skills such as active listening, reflection, and working well with peers adds more assurance and security that they will have the skills to succeed after leaving the classroom and in higher education. Schools can keep their finger on the pulse of student progress by doing periodic question and answer discussions designed to encourage open conversations about how students feel about their progress towards SEL goals. Surveys are another useful tool to gauge how well the SEL practices are working.
2. Create Safe Learning Environments
Using fear of punishment as a motivation for following the rules has, statistically, shown to be ineffective – America right now has more people in jail than any other country in the world. According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), nearly 2.2 million adults were held in America’s prisons and jails at the end of 2016.
Clearly, there is need of a new approach than security guards and metal detectors at schools, otherwise we are simply supporting the school-to-prison-pipeline. It is much more effective to create a school culture based on acceptance and empowering the student voice. If students feel like no matter what happens, they are able to talk about their feelings, and find a healthy outlet, this reduces hostile behavior, and bullying, once kids feel safe to express themselves. Training teachers to look beyond external symptoms for behavior issues to see the child, the human behind disruptive behavior, empowers the whole school to reach a new level of integrated community interpersonal relationships. Proactively creating programs to increase engagement, starting mentor programs, and encouraging students to maintain interactions with the same teacher over the years increases the feeling of connection, community and belonging. Being made to feel welcome, when many students don’t feel welcome even going home, is key to creating a strong community based in social emotional learning principals.
3. Teach A Social & Cognitive Skill Curriculum
Special is a two sided blade, when students are told they are special it can lead to isolation from other students. Special ed doesn’t carry positive connotations for regular ed students either, yet everyone is different, unique and possesses their own special skill set for how children succeed. By separating social-emotional-learning from the curriculum that is normally taught, it tends to lead students to reject the material as superfluous, or worst, feel that they have a label of inferiority requiring more instruction due to defects of character.
The only way to truly be effective in empowering students with SEL skill sets is to make social emotional learning a natural part of the regular curriculum. Showing real life ways that these skills are used in different contexts relating to course material creates a stronger bond and relevancy for each student to resonate with. Engaging in community-education partnerships with local organizations for semester long projects can help foster many of the SEL skills as well. Helping out in community gardens, trail maintenance and river restoration are great examples of semester long projects that can help students develop social awareness through constructive feedback and group-oriented goals. Put these strategies in practice at your school and be part of the positive change for students!