There’s no debate about both the long term and short-term benefits of a comprehensive social emotional learning curriculum, but that doesn’t mean that even the best SEL programs don’t sometimes feel a little stale.
Whether you’re looking to add some quick SEL refreshers to your day or simply want a few strategies to enhance SEL in and out of the classroom, these seven little changes will make a big difference for your students.
#1. Add a Mindful Minute to Your Day
This is a quick self regulation strategy to practice with your students and it only takes a literal minute of your day. For younger students, you may start by providing options for their mindful moment, such as a guided breathing exercise or grounding practice. For older students, the options may be more open-ended. The better students get at this, the longer they may be able to sustain their mindful moment. If time allows, sharing about their mindful moments can also be a valuable social skills activity for students.
#2. Write Down Goals Together as a Class
Goal setting is an important skill with a big impact across all five domains of social emotional learning. Through setting and working towards goals, students have the opportunity to practice self awareness, build self confidence, reflect on social dynamics, and actively engage with the decision making process. Setting goals as a class encourages social awareness, communication, and teamwork. When goal setting becomes a normal practice in the classroom, students are more likely to apply it outside of school as well.
#3. Create a Teacher Platform to Share Professional and Personal SEL Practices
SEL is most effective when teachers practice it too, but with heavy teaching loads, limited planning time, and busy personal lives, teachers may sometimes put their own wellbeing on the back burner. Providing a platform for teachers to reflect on or share their own SEL practices is a healthy reminder that their mental health is just as valuable as everyone else’s at school.
#4. Praise Student Effort Instead of Results
It’s tempting to pile on encouragement for good grades and strong academic performances, but students are more likely to develop a growth mindset when they know that what matters most to those around them is their effort, not their end result. Try replacing exclamations of “Great job!” with comments like, “I can see how hard you worked on that!”
#5. Add Emotional Check Ins to Your Daily Routine
Social emotional curriculum is a practice, not a set of memorized facts, and adding elements of it to the daily routine encourages students to engage in the practice throughout the school day. Emotional check ins can be as simple as having students color a square in to symbolize their feelings or writing one word onto an index card. This quick check in not only provides students with a reminder to make space for their feelings; it also gives teachers valuable data about how their students are doing emotionally and might help teachers to identify any patterns of concern.
#6. Create SEL Journals and Allow Access During Free Time
When students engage in SEL work, it’s helpful to keep it all in one place. This provides opportunities for reflection and allows students to review their progress throughout the year. Voluntary sharing of selected projects or entries through the year can be a valuable social skills activity for students. Allowing them access to these journals during free time also reinforces their personal practice of the skills they learned through more structured activities.
#7. Engage Parents
No matter how much time our students spend with us at school, the number one influence in their lives is rarely in the classroom. Engaging parents in the SEL curriculum can help them to reinforce these skills at home using shared vocabulary and practices. Including an SEL Tip of the Month in parent newsletters, sending home an introductory letter with each new unit, or simply opening conversation with parents in other ways can help them to understand what their children are learning, build their own understanding of SEL skills, and reinforce these important practices outside the classroom.
Even with a great curriculum, simply going through the motions of teaching SEL doesn’t guarantee that students will embrace these important practices. Little changes can reinforce skills beyond the classroom walls and help to create habits that last, even after students move on to other classrooms and schools. With these seven small changes, students reap big benefits.