ELA middle school teacher,
Frontier Teachers Association president
1. As students and teachers return to school this fall, we keep hearing how important it is to focus on SEL — or socialemotional learning. How do you define SEL?
Social-emotional learning occurs when educators deliberately establish a safe atmosphere where students are free to take risks, celebrate success and express emotions as a part of the learning process. SEL isn’t a program or process, but rather it is a lens we can hold up to our classrooms, a way of looking at learning as a means to support the journey every person is on in life.
2. You led a summer workshop for new teachers on how to incorporate SEL in everyday activities. What does that look like in the classroom?
Students learn to work together in cooperative groups by talking about self-awareness, for example. Or, students can look at historical situations and discuss responsible decisionmaking.
SEL is about taking the opportunity to help students as they are, with the skills they have, to work to become the best student they can be. The teacher’s role is to facilitate important conversations that will help students grow. It is going to be crucial to work with students on their social skills because the isolation and whiplash changes that happened during the pandemic robbed them of opportunities to hone those skills.
I expect we’ll be “pulling them out of their shell” to begin the year.
3. Family engagement is crucial, especially this year. What’s your advice for connecting and partnering with families?
Begin with establishing relationships with students and families.
Each fall I survey my families and my students and use that information to set the students up for success. I will connect by phone and email by the end of October. These “touches” help my families and students know that I care and that I am their advocate.
Families will work with you when they know you are on their child’s side.
4. With so much attention on “catching up” academically, is there enough time for SEL?
SEL can be implemented as a part of curriculum, not as another program or initiative.
Selfawareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness can be woven into the lessons we teach, no matter our subject area. It is far more effective to make SEL a part of who we are and what we do than to make it “another thing” to squeeze in.
5. What are some of the additional benefits of SEL?
Research suggests, and my own experience affirms, incorporating SEL into the school day creates caring classrooms where students are comfortable taking academic risks, supporting each other, and engaging in their learning. SEL is inherently relationship based and learning is social, so allowing relationships to drive learning is a logical way to create powerful learning experiences for students. Behavior problems decrease as authentic, caring relationships are established.