The Importance of Educator SEL

The Importance of Educator SEL

Imagine that you are in a classroom right now. Let’s say you’re working with a small group of students while the rest of the class rotates between independent activity stations. Usually, your students manage to do this with ease – there is some light chatting at some of the stations, but nothing that disrupts learning for others. Today, however, they are having some trouble and the noise level is so loud that it’s beginning to distract many kids from their activities and is definitely starting to distract you and interrupt you from working with your small group. You begin to become increasingly frustrated as your “let’s turn down the volume” reminders go unheeded. At this point, you decide that intervention is needed, and honestly, it would probably feel good to shout “Quiet!!”

But instead, given that you have some good social and emotional skills in your toolkit, you take a deep breath (to help you feel calm), stand up and get your students’ attention in your usual way (a clapping sequence, ringing a bell, or using key words are all good strategies), and talk about how you’re feeling. You explain to your students that you have noticed they are having trouble following expectations today, and that when it gets too loud or chaotic, it distracts others from their learning. You can say that just now, you were feeling upset, so you took a deep breath to help calm you down, and you lead your students through a breathing exercise. Then, you ask the class to think about why we have classroom expectations – why is important for us all to think about others’ learning in addition to our own? How would you feel if you had trouble getting something done because you couldn’t concentrate?

By now, most educators recognize the importance of student social emotional learning (SEL). It’s clear from the research that students benefit from learning skills like how to get along with others, persist through challenges, and recognize their emotions. What’s less talked about is the role of social and emotional skills in educators themselves. However, as we see in the example above, improved SE skills benefit both educators and their students.

Educators can benefit from learning about SE skills in two major ways: one way is that having content knowledge about a subject can increase your efficacy in teaching it, and another is that it can help you manage your own emotions and reactions during times of stress. ACT’s Holistic Framework breaks these SE skills down into 5 major areas (click each skill to access free resources in each area):

 

SE SkillDescription
Sustaining EffortHow your actions demonstrate diligence, effort, organization, self-control, and compliance with the rules.
Getting Along with OthersHow your actions demonstrate positive interactions and cooperation with others, and kindness, friendliness, and tactfulness.
Maintaining ComposureHow your actions demonstrate relative calmness, serenity, and the ability to manage emotions effectively.
Keeping an Open MindHow your actions demonstrate open-mindedness and curiosity about a variety of ideas, beliefs, people, and experiences.
Social ConnectionHow your actions demonstrate a preference for social interaction, assertiveness in social situations, and optimism.

 

Having a solid base of knowledge related to these SE skills (in the example above, Maintaining Composure) can help you cope with stressful emotions but can also turn everyday classroom management into teaching moments for students. Engaging in SE strategies yourself will help students build their own SE skills and help provide a positive classroom environment. For example, your daily greetings to students that incorporate knowledge about that student can model Getting Along with Others (“I heard your team won their game last night!”) and demonstrating an appreciation for different cultures (“Isn’t that a cool way of looking at things? I wonder if we could try to do more of that in our classroom”) can model Keeping an Open Mind.

In addition to finding more ideas for ways to incorporate SE into your teaching on this blog (see the table above for some links to each skill area), ACT offers an online and blended professional development course called Powerful Educator. In this course, educators are provided with the information they need to understand evidence-based SE principles, incorporate these strategies into their teaching, and the tools needed to help build a positive climate in both the classroom and the school. We also offer specialized professional development for teaching SEL with ELL students and, coming in September 2020, a professional development unit focused on Trauma-informed SEL.

Finally, no discussion about educator SE skills is complete without mentioning self-care. I don’t mean going to a spa or buying a candle (though of course those are nice), but ways that you can recharge when you have multiple demands and limited energy. This can look different for each of us, and could include things like talking to supportive colleagues, engaging in an activity you enjoy, or taking a day off when it’s possible. These strategies can also be incorporated into your classroom – things like providing a space for students to go when they need to be alone or calm down, encouraging positive peer relationships, and giving students a “free homework pass” they can use once a semester are a few examples. Lastly, give yourself permission to make mistakes and not expect personal perfection. We want our students to use a growth mindset, so let’s model what this looks like for them, too.

Jill McVey, PhD

Jill McVey, PhD

Jill McVey is a research scientist In ACT’s Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. She completed her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Research Methods and Statistics at the University of Denver. Her primary research interests are in education, particularly the impact that social and emotional skills have on academic achievement.