Supporting students’ social-emotional development has always been essential. But this year especially, educators are realizing the critical role of social-emotional learning (SEL). In remote learning contexts teachers need to come up with creative ways to keep students engaged and connected as well as practice key social skills. Teachers working with students in-person may have found that their students are struggling with more social, emotional, and behavioral issues, given all they have gone through this year.
While many districts and schools have worked towards building a strong SEL foundation, there are always ways to expand on these foundations and improve them to make SEL programs and practices even more effective. Here are four ways to step up your SEL programs and practices to support all learners.
Use a Competency Framework
When it comes to SEL, there is often a focus on students’ problematic behaviors. This is understandable given that behaviors such as defiance, disorganization, and inattention are the most noticeable and disruptive. However, a deficit framework ignores the underlying skills that should be developed and promoted in order to reduce the problematic ones. A competency framework focuses on building the skills that promote positive behaviors. During intervention planning, instead of focusing on which behaviors you want to decrease, think about the competencies you want to improve and develop. A great place to start is with CASEL’s core SEL competencies. Make connections between negative behaviors and positive skills that can be taught and promoted. For example, students who fail to turn in assignments may need help with their self-management skills.
Move Beyond Behavior Tracking
Monitoring student behavior can be an informative way to tell if they are improving over time. However, for this method to be an effective intervention, students should have an active role in understanding and modifying their behavior. For example, Check-in/Check-out is an intervention that gives students the opportunity to explicitly understand their behavioral goals and reflect on whether or not they reached those goals at the beginning and end of a class period or school day. Students should also be involved in setting their own behavior goals to improve their motivation and become actively engaged in their behavior plan. Older students can even monitor their own behavior, which also improves self-awareness and regulation.
Track Implementation Fidelity
Implementation fidelity is the most important part of any SEL intervention. Some of the most well-designed, comprehensive, research-based programs fail to have any effects due to poor implementation. This can be due to many factors, such as lack of teacher training, poor student attendance, and issues with the program or curriculum itself. Implementation becomes even more important as students are learning remotely and online. District and school leaders should ensure that their teachers have adequate and appropriate training and support to implement SEL programs and practices. Teachers should also be encouraged to keep track of the quantity and quality of implementation and school leaders should be reviewing the fidelity of implementation throughout the school year.
Integrate SEL Lessons into your Core Curriculum
Stand alone SEL programs and lessons can be great, but they tend to not have much of an impact on students unless the skills being taught are consistently reinforced across topic areas. Social-emotional concepts can be taught in ELA, Social Studies, and even Math and Science. You can also try implementing daily practices with your whole classroom to build social connections and students’ sense of belonging (see Sanford Harmony’s Everyday Practices as an example). These daily interactions give students the opportunity to practice key social-emotional competencies, such as communication, problem-solving, and social awareness, that will continue to strengthen their foundation for learning and future success.
At Branching Minds, we have the great privilege of working with districts across the country to assess, implement and support RTI/MTSS work. Without fail, these four ways of setting up SEL programs and practices have been the ones that worked the most.
Branching Minds is a highly respected K-12 services and technology company that leverages the learning sciences and technology to help districts effectively personalize learning through enhancements to their MTSS/RTI practice. Having worked with hundreds of districts across the country, we bring deep expertise in learning sciences, data management and analysis, software design, coaching, and collaboration. Combined with our extensive toolkit of resources, PD, and technology, we provide a system-level solution. We are more than a service or a software provider, we are partners who will deliver sustainable results for educators, and a path to success for every learner.