How to Bring Social and Emotional Learning to Your School
How to adopt Jefferson County's best practices in 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, 5 months, and 5 years.
CARE for Kids, the Jefferson County Public Schools's program for social and emotional learning (SEL), is helping invigorate school culture, reduce discipline problems, and boost academic performance across the Louisville, Kentucky, school district. Replicated in other districts, it could have a similar effect.
Yes, this is a holistic program that requires time, and, possibly more daunting, the kind of politicking that would convince a school to adopt new methods in and out of the classroom. But don't be discouraged -- you can put some of Jefferson County's successful strategies to use in your classroom in just a few minutes.
If you find those first steps paying dividends for you and your students, you can start spreading these good ideas around. Bringing a whole school on board can produce an even bigger impact. It has taken just two years for Jefferson County to see solid improvement. Here's what you can do with the time you have:
In 5 minutes, you can
- watch our introductory video about Jefferson County's program.
- intentionally greet each student as he or she enters the classroom to help build relationships.
- give a student a compliment, ask about her day, or simply tell her "Good morning" to help build your personal connection.
- involve students in setting their own class norms.
- use a Y chart with students to set and reinforce expectations for each activity.
- share with students something meaningful about yourself, such as an interest or hobby, to help them see you as a real person and build your personal connection with them.
- arrange the desks in clusters to encourage collaborative work.
- Download a resource from Jefferson County that could be useful in your classroom.
- have a class meeting to discuss an important issue, such as resolving a conflict or talking about breaking local or national news.
- reflect on what you as an adult intentionally model for your students -- problem solving, patience with others, voice level, body language, and so on -- to determine your own strengths and areas for growth. The students are watching!
- incorporate specific feedback rather than general feedback for individual students or the class (for example, you can say, "You stuck with a challenging task even when it was difficult" or "You figured out how to share the materials so you both got the work done.")
In 5 days, you can
- read a book on SEL or positive discipline.
- use daily morning meetings to get to know your students better and build a sense of community.
- create lesson plans that provide students the opportunity to make some of their own learning choices and work collaboratively with peers.
- ask students questions that promote inquiry and understanding, rather than just seeking a "right" answer.
- encourage students to make suggestions that influence the activities and procedures in class or school.
- meet with interested colleagues, administrators, parents, and community members to share insights from Jefferson County and brainstorm what could be done at your school.
In 5 weeks, you can
- start a book club among colleagues to learn more about best practices for SEL.
- change the kind of language you use with students; Jefferson County urges educators to use language that reminds and redirects students, rather than condemns them, emphasizing the deed, not the doer. (Download a PDF of a teacher-language chart.)
- design opportunities for students to see their own cultures and experiences reflected in class.
- hold early-morning coffees and brown bag or pizza lunches for teachers, families, students, and community members to learn about SEL.
- give parents regular updates about class activities and create homework assignments that prompt students to engage adults at home.
- create lessons that help students grow their understanding and tolerance of people from different cultures and backgrounds.
- provide frequent opportunities for your students to discuss and reflect on their social and academic experiences.
- form a committee to start designing plans for how best practices in SEL could be implemented at your school.
In 5 months, you can
- work with colleagues to develop a new positive-discipline plan for your school.
- create opportunities for students to participate in service learning to give them experience with taking responsibility and making a positive difference.
- request time at staff meetings or professional-development sessions to share what you've learned about SEL and encourage colleagues to use best practices, such as morning meetings.
- initiate schoolwide service-learning projects that reinforce SEL themes and engage students in practicing and reflecting on their social and emotional skills.
- incorporate the themes of social and emotional skills into academic lessons, such as reading.
- use your committee (see "5 weeks," above) to begin developing plans to build out other best practices from Jefferson County, such as community-building events, cross-age buddy activities, and parent engagement.
- have students lead parent-teacher conferences, articulating their strengths and weaknesses, setting goals, describing the quality of their work, and talking about plans for improvement.
- regularly recognize and celebrate the contributions of people in the school community.
- present Jefferson County's strategies and successes to district administrators and board members to gauge their interest in pursuing SEL districtwide.
In 5 years, you can
- continue your efforts from "5 months," above, to make morning meetings a meaningful daily routine in every classroom in your school and ensure that your positive-discipline plan is applied consistently schoolwide.
- bring a comprehensive schoolwide or districtwide SEL plan to full scale.
- create a district SEL committee to provide support and facilitate coordination of individual schools' SEL initiatives.
- spread the word -- share the challenges and successes of your efforts with educators in other schools and districts.
Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.
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