School and district leaders are becoming increasingly dedicated to improving their social-emotional learning (SEL) programs and practices for students. But an area of SEL that sometimes gets overlooked is the social-emotional skills and well-being of staff members. We know from research and practice that efforts to promote and improve student SEL will fall short if the teachers and staff members implementing SEL curricula and strategies do not have a good handle on these skills themselves. It is also a good idea for leadership teams to start planning now for how they will support their teachers’ social-emotional needs for the upcoming school year. Here are four areas of teacher SEL to consider and work towards addressing if you plan on making SEL a priority at your school.
Nurture teachers’ social-emotional well-being
Research shows that teaching is one of the most stressful occupations. Not only are teachers highly susceptible to stress, anxiety, and burnout, but they also have a high turnover rate; many teachers choose to leave the profession after only a few years. There is also preliminary research showing a stress contagion effect in the classroom, where teachers’ stress levels can carry over to their students. Although research on the impact of the pandemic on teaching is still emerging, the year spent in isolation, teaching remotely, has likely had a negative impact on teachers’ sense of well-being.
There are several ways that schools can address these challenges and work to promote teacher wellness. For example, teacher-focused coaching and mentorship has been shown to be effective in improving teachers’ sense of well-being. Some schools may use a professional coaching or mentorship program to come in and work with their staff. Another option is to provide mentorship internally by pairing up new and verteran teachers within a school. Programs that focus on teacher mindfulness and give educators specific skills they can use to cope and build resiliency have also shown positive outcomes. Another way for school leaders to address teacher wellness is by building a sense of community among staff members in a school. Collective leadership is an effective process to use when it comes to decision-making. This method allows all teachers to have their voices heard and gives school leaders the opportunity to understand what is needed by their staff in order to improve their social-emotional health.
Provide professional development around supporting student’s SEL
Although SEL is now a common acronym and concept in the world of education, the actual meaning, definition, and components of SEL may be unclear for some educators. Teams involved in MTSS and Behavior and SEL should be selecting assessment tools and interventions that also help build teachers’ awareness of social-emotional skills. An example of this can be seen with the DESSA SEL assessment tool; the questions teachers answer on the DESSA about each of their students include the social-emotional skills they should be aware of and promoting within their classrooms. Another example is Harmony SEL— an free evidence-based SEL curriculum— which has a companion program called Inspire that is solely focused on teacher SEL and strategies and practices to build these competencies in their classrooms. Given the increased offerings of PD related to SEL, leadership teams should be wary of assessments and programs that do not include a training component.
All educators also need to be trained on what high-quality implementation looks like in an SEL program and how to track and measure it over time. Teachers often implement social-emotional strategies and practices as needed, meaning that they may be using more reactive rather than proactive approaches. This can be an effective method for some behavioral concerns, but teachers should also be implementing proactive strategies focused on building relationship skills, self-awareness, social awareness, self-regulation, and responsible decision making. When using an SEL curriculum, adherence and consistency is essential. This also means school leaders need to ensure teachers have the time and resources available to properly implement social-emotional learning programs and practices.
Create school-wide SEL expectations and guidelines, for both staff and students
These types of school-wide SEL guidelines are often created for students, but shared expectations among staff members are less often prioritized. Again, the process of collective leadership can be used to bring all educators in a building together to decide how they will hold themselves accountable for supporting the development of their own social-emotional skills and sense of well-being as well as those of their students. The goal when creating these types of guidelines is to recognize shared social-emotional values and norms among staff members working in a building. This includes how staff members support and respect each other. It can also be an opportunity for teachers to share what they need in order to feel supported by their leadership team at the school.
The development of these expectations includes discussing school-wide approaches and initiatives to promote equity and inclusion. Issues related to disproportionality and well-being are not only a student issue; a recent study found that Hispanic and Black teachers were more likely to report high levels of occupational stress compared to White teachers. This is another reason why it is important for school leadership to provide staff with opportunities to discuss these issues openly so they can be heard and feel supported by the school’s leadership as well as other teachers. In some cases, anonymous feedback surveys can serve as a great starting point to get a better understanding of the current social-emotional climate among staff members and teachers’ perspectives on how things could be improved.
Modeling of social-emotional skills from teachers and other staff members
Students learn from explicit instruction as well as from the actions and behaviors they are observing from others. Often what students learn through direct lessons gets reinforced through what they regularly observe. If a teacher delivers a lesson on managing one’s emotions, and then an hour later loses their temper at a student who misbehaves, this sends a very mixed message to the students. This also includes how teachers are interacting with each other when around students. Children are keen observers and notice everything, even if a teacher rolls their eyes or makes a particular expression after another teacher leaves the room. This goes back to teachers’ becoming aware of their own social-emotional skills and areas that they might need to work on and improve in order to model appropriate behaviors in front of students.
Of course kids notice the positive interactions as well, such as when a teacher expresses gratitude or helps another staff member or student. Another aspect of modeling is calling attention to prosocial interactions among students or when a student uses a social-emotional skill. Making this a regular practice can be a bit challenging for some teachers since the negative behaviors from students can be more obvious and disruptive than the positives. Nevertheless, it is an important shift that is needed in order for social-emotional learning to become fully integrated into a classroom and school environment. A well-implemented, evidence-based, SEL program will also help teachers become more aware of social-emotional competencies and how they appear in everyday interactions. The more that teachers can integrate the content of these programs into their regular and ongoing teaching practices, the more likely it will significantly impact the social-emotional outcomes of their students and themselves.
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Branching Minds makes MTSS easy, efficient, and effective by bringing together all of the components of MTSS so teachers can collaboratively problem-solve and support all students’ holistic needs. Our system-level solution helps schools improve students’ outcomes across academics, behavior, and SEL equitably.
Our platform supports teachers with Behavior and SEL in the following ways:
✅ Assessing SEL Needs with the DESSA ✅ Understand Students Perception of their Own SEL Competence with the SECA ✅ Leveraging SEL Screeners for Tiering ✅ More effective problem-solving ✅ Finding the Right Evidence-based Interventions & Accommodations for Each Learner ✅ Creating Intervention Plans and Monitoring Daily & Weekly Progress in Behavior/SEL ✅ Logging & Monitoring Behavior Incidents ✅ Pattern Matching Behavior Incidents Across Groups
Essie Sutton is an Applied Developmental Psychologist and the Director of Learning Science at Branching Minds. Her work brings together the fields of Child Development and Education Psychology to improve learning and development for all students. Dr. Sutton is responsible for studying the impacts of the Branching Minds on students’ academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes. She also leverages MTSS research and best practices to develop and improve the Branching Minds platform.