Maximize the benefits of Social Emotional Learning in your Classrooms
By Kim Bollesen
After attending a recent principals’ conference, I came back to my school with resolve, knowing exactly what needed to be done in the SEL arena to work with our single, onsite counselor.
The problem was that I thought I really needed ten counselors, and we just didn’t have those levels of resources. With an SEL curriculum, we now have a way to get into all the classrooms without having to physically be in those classrooms.
We started using the program at first with our teachers exclusively and then introduced it to our students. Here are the ways we’re using it to support teachers, students, and parents along their SEL journey:
- Start with teachers first. For our first year of use, the SEL program enabled portal access for a limited number of users for staff development and meetings. Staff members learned a new mindset every month and spent the time “living out” the lessons and preparing to introduce them to students.
- Help teachers “feel” the power of SEL. For the “attitude of gratitude” mindset, our staff members watched videos about empathy, talked about gratitude, and then selected from an array of thank-you cards that were spread out on tables around the media center. We put on some music and staff members wrote thank-you notes to someone who had impacted their life. It made a huge impression. I saw grown men tearing up over what it actually meant to sit down and thank someone.
- Meet students where they are. We kicked off year two by having staff personally deliver welcome bags to students at home before the school year even started. In the bags were pencils and bookmarks, all of which had mindsets on them. We wanted them to know what was coming and what to expect. Students also received personal, handwritten postcards from their teachers welcoming them back on campus. This up-close interaction with students also paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school shutdowns, when our staff members were better prepared for the remote learning because they did those in-person visits.
- Let the grade level dictate the SEL approach. Today, each grade structures its use of the SEL curriculum differently. Younger grades participate on a daily basis, for example, either right after recess or during their morning circles. Older grades use the “Mindset Monday” strategy of kicking off the week with a new mindset lesson and then referring back to it regularly throughout the week.
- Embed SEL in all aspects of life and learning. Parents were quick to embrace the SEL curriculum, with many of them comparing it to the reinforcement that they were already working on at home. The way I explain the SEL program to my colleagues is this: you can do PBIS and you can get a framework, but the mindsets are the “why” behind it all. When one kindergartner approached me to confess that he wasn’t being 100% accountable, for example, I asked for an explanation and learned that he had misbehaved on the playground. He told me why he wasn’t 100% accountable, and how he was going to fix it. It was a pretty powerful moment.
At their Fingertips
Teachers like having an SEL curriculum because it gives them myriad resources and a clear framework right at their fingertips. The platform is flexible enough to adapt to a specific teacher’s requirements, but also structured enough to provide a clear path to SEL success. When a new teacher or substitute enters a classroom, he or she can almost feel the difference in the learning environment.
Substitutes often tell us that there’s a “different feeling here,” and that when they walk in, they feel welcome. That welcoming environment existed before we started using our SEL program, but with the curriculum, we’ve embedded it even more.
About the author
Kim Bollesen is principal of Farmington Elementary School in Farmington, MN.