By: Melissa Ragan, Chief Learning Officer, Navigate360
5 Ways to Easily Implement SEL and Support Social Success
By now, most people realize the importance of integrating social-emotional learning in the classroom. Between the isolating impact of the pandemic, staggering mental health issues plaguing our youth and the mountain of research that shows the benefits ranging from improved academic results and decreased behavioral issues, the value of social-emotional learning is clear. But when you’re in the classroom with so many other shifting priorities, it can feel like just another thing to do. Instead of thinking about it through that lens, think of social success as the foundation to build everything else on.
Good teachers are already using social success strategies in the classroom. You may not call it SEL, but you can’t be an effective educator without incorporating social-emotional learning. Still, if you’re having some challenges thinking of how to integrate SEL, here are some ideas.
When I was teaching high school, one of the first things we did at the start of the school year was a “getting to know you” activity. Part of that icebreaker included having students identify 1-3 things that they are good at. I was shocked every single year when most of the students in my classroom couldn’t identify a SINGLE thing they were good at. It made me a little sad to think that no one in their life had told them they were good at something. We worked together to identify those things, and I provided opportunities in the classroom for them to model those skills. They loved having the chance to show off their strengths. We also met in a 1:1 conference throughout the year to identify their accomplishments and the things that they wanted to work on. They set SMART goals and tracked their progress in a portfolio. By the end of the year, they had a collection of milestones that showed how much they’d grown and a solid artifact to show what they were good at.
Studies show that student mental health concerns have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, but the years since have also seen a reduced stigma around mental health. My children and their friends are much more open about communicating when they need help. Not all of our students have this much self-awareness, so I start my classes with an Arrival Practice. This can be something as simple as four-square breathing, a mindful minute or a simple yoga pose. The intent isn’t so much a particular strategy, more just an opportunity to recenter and bring students back to the present. Try a variety of techniques and alter them to fit what works for you and your class. And don’t forget to think about your self-care too.
One of my favorite things to do with students is a Gratitude Challenge. This can be something you do in your classroom or schoolwide. Each week, we’d select a person to show gratitude to. We’d set a criterion in advance and then took nominations on Mondays. Sometimes it was someone in our class, and sometimes it was someone in the building. The class would vote, and then we’d write a note and design a card for the person telling them exactly what we appreciated about them. Then, we’d share our notes of appreciation with the selected individual by Friday of that week. Another way I introduced gratitude is with journal prompts asking students to identify things in their life, big or small, that they were grateful for.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it can also serve another purpose!
Building relationships is the most important part of teaching. It’s easy to overlook students who don’t seek out attention, and that’s why some schools take time to identify students who might need additional one-on-one time. In the data room at our school, we had photos of every student. Periodically, our administrator brought us in with the task of identifying students who we had meaningful interactions with over the course of a specific period. Students who didn’t have check marks under their pictures were then divided up, and we were charged with seeking out an authentic engagement with our assigned students.
Responsible Decision Making
Community service projects are a great way to practice decision-making skills. Together, students identify a person, community, family or school challenge that could be supported with a service project. Our Suite360 Wrap Up lessons are a great way to use project-based learning to help students practice those responsible decision-making skills and apply them in an authentic way.
To learn more about our SEL program, check out our Facebook Educators Group and feel free to share your ideas in the comments!
About the Author
Melissa Ragan is the chief learning officer at Navigate360. Prior to joining the company, Melissa worked as an educator before moving into curriculum and professional development for large educational publishers. Most recently, she developed social-emotional learning (SEL) programs for middle and high school students, authored SEL Professional Development for the United Nations, is part of the UNESCO working group for SEL, and is the co-author of the forthcoming book titled The Social Emotional Classroom.