Angela Benedetto, Ph.D.
Great teachers practice and model their natural social and emotional skills without giving it much attention. It’s a part of who they are, and why they teach in the first place.
No one better understands how challenging it is to teach when children are bringing their traumatic experiences, great or small, into the classroom.
Not surprisingly, therefore, a 2015 study by the Education Week Research Center found that an average of 83% of teachers said it was “very important” to provide SEL skills to students and nearly 90% of teachers said SEL skills were “very important” for teachers to possess.
Even so, personal training in SEL in order to resonate with students who are being so trained, represents a new skill set for the vast majority of faculty and virtually all students.
Because care and respect must be taken when creating change this big, it is ideal if parents and teachers ally in advocating for the changes – and then work together during the implementation and early training periods.
Focusing on the benefits is essential. Being part of a movement that supports all faculty and administrators being trained in social and emotional skills can change the school culture, climate and work experience in profound and positive ways.
Parent/Teacher alliances can make the case to administrators that research indicates SEL improves academic skills as a direct result of students being exposed to the “soft” non-cognitive skills that have to do with feelings, needs and the experiences in their everyday lives..
Teachers and parents can also argue that creating positive learning environments is an important factor in improving learning across the board.
Therefore, SEL progams ideally should not be used only haphazardly or in emergencies such as an outbreak of violence, bullying or drug abuse. Instead, they should be fully integrated into curriculum and school culture, inside and outside the classroom, including into language arts, history, science and all other content areas.
Students want an atmosphere where it is fun to learn, teachers want to teach, and administrators want to lead effectively. The best case for SEL: Everyone wins when all parties are immersed in developing and using these skills.
For teachers who don’t have any SEL programs and practices in place, and for parents who want to encourage teachers to support SEL adaption, here are some guidelines for moving SEL forward.
And below these are specific teacher resources for learning more about SEL that parents can also share with teachers.
- Check out the CASEL website for lots of juicy information supporting teachers, administrators, schools and policy makers. Some others can be found at InspirED.fb, which is Facebook‘s own resource for promoting emotional intelligence.
- Talk to other teachers to learn, if you have not already, if anyone is using an SEL practice or instruction discretely in their classroom, or if they have received training in SEL. They might be willing to be good allies as advocates and/or mentors to you.
- Introducing SEL to your administrators may or may not be an easy task, depending on you administrator’s style of leadership. First, seek out administrators likely to be most sympathetic, perhaps because they believe learning and growing is a life-long process.
- Be as prepared as possible knowing what you plan to say can make a big difference. I dropped off articles about Mindfulness and Learning for years before the school district I taught in began offering Mindfulness for staff development and intervention programs. (See our SEL Guide for Administrators for thoughts to share with yours.)
- Ask your individual school administrators if SEL can be an option for staff development training. You may want to begin with your department chair before moving up the ladder.
- To the degree you feel comfortable about it, even before formal training by you or your students, talk to or demonstrate for your students what you know about SEL in a manner that allows them to understand the benefits.
- Find out if you can personally receive credit for in-service SEL training. Most teachers know if their schools support and fund various specialty trainings. If you don’t know, ask – and who knows, there may be funding available.
- If you’re really industrious, you may ask to pilot introducing an SEL program. There’s lots of research driven curriculum available on CASEL and the lessons are fairly easy to follow. We know of one school where several teachers took it upon themselves to learn how to instruct early grade students in SEL and prevailed upon the principal to buy the teaching materials and insert special classes in the curriculum, as a first step in developing a whole-school SEL culture.
- If you have a friend who is teaching and still in grad school, he or she might want to pair up with you as part of a research project. CASEL has a wealth of information on SEL programs being used in the US and Canada.
- Speak with your union reps to see if there is a viable avenue to begin the implementation process. Whether or not there is, advocate for your local union and its leaders to support the cause.
- Check out your local colleges and other businesses and institutes for mindfulness programs that can help you integrate your feelings and needs and become more self- aware. The more connected to yourself you are professionally, the more available you are to teach, lead, and learn.
To learn more about SEL and how it can help you in your teaching career check out:
- gtlcenter.org (Center on Great Teachers and Leaders)
Check out the related tags on the Edutopia site for articles on teacher development school climate, teacher leadership, teacher collaboration, and teaching strategies. Edutopia also has videos, teacher resource material and a blog to support teachers.
Books Supporting Teachers
- The Way of Mindful Education
- The Compassionate Classroom
- Full Catastrophe Living
- Educating Minds and Hearts
- Promoting Social and Emotional Learning; Guidelines for Educators
- Emotional Intelligence, Why it Can Matter More than IQ
- Reengaging Disconnected Youth: Transformative Learning Through Restorative and Social Justice Education
- Ibooks: The Stress Reduction handbook for Teachers
Here’s a list of research-based teacher training programs supporting SEL:
Garrison Institute’s CARE for Teachers program
Passageworks’ SMART-in-Education program
SEL Masters Program at the University of British Columbia
Margaret Cullen’s Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance (Smart)
FuelEd teacher training program
Passageworks Engaged Teaching Approach
Omega Institute Mindfulness Resources