(This article originally appeared in GetSmart.com on May 1, 2020).
GetSmart.com Guest Author: Lori Jackson
The Learning Counsel’s 2019 Survey of School and District Digital Curriculum Strategy and Transformation identified, for the first time ever, social-emotional needs as outranking every other major issue facing K-12 schools. In fact, this topic has become so important in the education conversation that I recently had the chance to speak about it on the debut episode of Education Today, a new podcast from Soundtrap for Education.
Clearly, educators are feeling the pain. When I speak with teachers, families, and communities across the nation, they see mental health issues in children that have never been seen before. Equally concerning is that they don’t have plans and aren’t always prepared to appropriately handle them.
According to the Pew Research Center, anxiety and depression among young people are on the rise. More than four-in-ten say bullying, drug addiction, and alcohol consumption are major problems affecting people their age, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teenagers.
On top of it all, the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily forced districts to shut down schools, exacerbating students’ anxiety, confusion, and fears about their future. And certainly, teachers are not immune to the same stressors. We must act now.
What a Proactive SEL Approach Looks Like Right NowMany times, parents and teachers do their best to shield school-aged kids from difficult conversations surrounding global issues. However, kids are already discussing coronavirus with each other or seeing comments on Instagram and Snapchat. For younger children, this could result in feeling emotions they can’t yet express. Their behavior could start to change. So it’s important to recognize the signs early and take a proactive approach.
It’s crucial to start by creating a safe and open environment to encourage children to share how they feel. Keep in mind, it’s important to acknowledge and accept whatever emotions they are showing and feeling.
Next, we must do more to support schools in helping them empower children to address their social-emotional needs. The good news is that social-emotional learning (SEL) is not an amorphous topic.
SEL is effective in increasing academic outcomes and supporting students’ overall emotional well-being. Studies show many students with disabilities and social issues struggle with regulating emotions. If students can’t regulate emotions, they can’t learn.
Therefore, directly targeting the development of emotional regulation in students is not only useful in SEL but necessary for true behavioral change and developing skills that can be generalized across settings and situations.
SEL boils down to teaching foundational and fundamental skills that children need in order to empower themselves to drive their own learning. Just as teaching academic skills helps students think through and solve problems, teaching social-emotional skills helps students to identify the source of their emotions and offer solutions to help manage those emotions.
Along the way, new neural pathways in the brain can be created. The more we repeat a certain behavior, the stronger the corresponding pathway in the brain becomes.
Attacking the Anxiety of Teaching SELBut teaching social-emotional learning is not easy. When I visit classrooms and meet with teachers, I see anxiety. They worry, “Am I teaching this right?” Add the element of distance learning and disrupting children’s daily routines in the era of COVID-19, and teachers could easily feel overwhelmed.
The first thing we can do is just reassure teachers. We need to tell them, “You do this every minute of every day. You are simply teaching. You are just fine.”
Teachers are not mental health counselors. They are just great teachers. This realization will help them see that SEL is manageable.
Our KidConnect Ready2Learn app, for example, teaches students the critical skills to manage themselves. The curriculum scope and sequence teaches the foundational SEL skills that students need. The program integrates ideas with established classroom routines so students apply SEL skills in real time, using real life situations. And the app goes hand-in-hand with what digital natives know. This is the best way to stop talking at them, and instead, allowing them to drive their own learning.
Be Specific When Giving an ExampleIt’s important that adults connect the feelings they’re experiencing to specific events. By doing so, we:
“This” means distance learning, distance teaching, distance meetings, everyone at a distance.
Even at a distance, “this” is the perfect time to get serious about teaching SEL. This means teaching everyone to identify, understand, and manage their emotions so they can be in charge of their own learning and behavior. We can do this from a distance, and here’s how.
1. It’s all about emotions.
This is the place to begin for parents, kids, teachers, administrators, and all school staff. Being able to manage emotions right now in a period of uncertainty is critical to keep learning and working moving smoothly.
The first step in this process is to be able to identify your emotions. Teachers can model different emotions in online sessions by first modeling how they feel and then asking kids to do the same. This can become a routine. How is everyone feeling today? The critical piece is to ask why. When we give emotions context, we help connect them to the events and issues that are driving them, which aids learning and stores the information for later use.
2. Make a plan to manage emotions.
It’s not enough just to acknowledge we all have emotions right now; planning what to do when they are felt is even more important than ever.
For teachers this can be done during their distance learning sessions, emails to students and parents. It starts with modeling.
“This morning I was feeling a little anxious when I woke up so I went outside and did 10 jumping jacks on my porch. This helped me to feel a little less anxious so I could make a plan for the day.”
This kind of modeling from parents and teachers will help kids to learn they are in control of their response to the emotions. During distance learning sessions, teachers can ask kids to offer ideas and suggestions for strategies to manage different emotions and then ask kids to practice and share how it went the next time they “meet.”
3. Build empathy for others. We are all in this together.
This is a good time to build a team. We can’t be together or play together but we can understand and share our common emotions, strategies, and ideas of how to manage this difficult time. Learning from each other right now is key to making distance learning less remote and less isolating.
4. It all takes time.
We aren’t expecting mastery of academic subjects right now, so patience in this area is needed, too. Just make a plan to make emotions a focus every day. You’ll be surprised at how enthusiastic your students and kids are to discuss them.
Our new “normal” doesn’t mean we have to give up on SEL until we are back to school. In fact, it’s the best time to try a new approach.
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Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.
Lori Jackson is an educational psychologist, with more than 15 years of experience working with students and their families. She is also co-founder of The Connections Model, a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum company whose KidConnect Classroom Curriculum and App help students develop emotional regulation, the necessary foundation for all learning. Follow her work on Twitter @TheConnectModel.
Today, more and more districts are supporting Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as a focused strategy— not only for improving school climate and student engagement but also for improving student learning.
AlaQuest Collaborative for Education helps school districts develop a clear plan to measure SEL implementation that aligns with their district goals. Whether school districts want to address the climate and culture, student demonstration of SEL skills, student achievement, safety or other areas, ACE guides and works beside leaders, teachers, and students to apply the right-fittiing resources. Visit CASEL website for more resources of how to measure SEL work.
ACE is who educators turn to for Professional Development. ACE has found that developing SEL skills in adults improves professional interactions inside the school and prepares teachers to help students develop their own SEL skills.
SEL implementation is reflected not only in classroom instruction, but in policies and practices on school climate, culture and partnerships with families. With support inside and outside of each district, ACE believes that SEL implementation has a stronger chance to be sustained and supported through changes in district leadership or downturns in finances. Join ACE with your donation to increase the implementation of SEL in Alabama's schools. Thank you for your partnership.
You Are Invited to Join Our LIVE Webinar!
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020 at 10:00 AM (CST).
Join educators from across the state of Alabama
to address the current and anticipated
social and emotional needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Matthew Smith, ACE Executive Director, will facilitate the LIVE webinar
and we will be joined by guest speaker, Dr. Melissa Shields, NBCT,
Regional Support Coordinator, Alabama Department of Education,
This image (left) is the wheel of CASEL.org that is widely used for framework and identifies the Five Core Competencies of SEL.
What is SEL?
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
5 SEL Core Competencies - Defined
1. Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
2. Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
3. Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
4. Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
5. Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.
Burnout is a widespread problem. According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is a type of job stress in which you might feel physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. We all might occationally experience job burnout, question our career choice, and the value of our contribution at work. However, these are the top ten occupations where burnout tends to occur at a higher rate than others.
1. Physician 6. Attorney
2. Nurse 7. Police Officer
3. Social Worker 8. Public Accounting
4. Teacher 9. Fast Food
5. School Principal 10. Retail
These are not the only professions where burnout is possible but rather a few examples of career fields where burnout seems to be fairly common. According to a USA Today article, workplace burnout is up across the board, partly due to economic conditions but largely related to work environment and the nature of the work itself. Experiencing burnout is a real struggle regardless of the occupation. There are warning signs of burnout. Working long hours causes exhaustion and a feeling of elevated stress levels that can lead to feeling unappreciated or devalued.
According to HeathGuide.com whether you recognize the warning signs of impending burnout or you’re already past the breaking point, trying to push through the exhaustion and continuing as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage (Oct. 2019). Instead, pause and change direction by learning how you can help yourself overcome burnout and feel healthy and positive again.
Dealing with burnout requires
Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.
For more information about burnout and social and emotional skills - Click on the links below.
Educators work hard to bring their best selves to the classroom ever day while juggling individual student needs, set ambitious goals, and often work long hours. Many teachers face escalating job demands with few resources and, at times, work with students who face complex trauma, behavioral difficulties, and learning challenges. These stressors combine to make teaching one of the most stressful occupations in the U.S. (Gallup, 2014).
Studies found these stressors affect teachers’ health and well-being, job satisfaction, turnover, and even student outcomes (Greenberg, Brown, & Abenavoli, 2016). For this reason, experts say, it’s essential that educators take time to prevent burnout, promote health, and protect themselves from the negative effects of stress. (email@example.com)
AlaQuest Collaborative for Education, (ACE), has a team of volunteers who work closely with classroom teachers. We see how hard you work to empower students everyday. As a reminder, we want you to practice self-care to re-energize youself. Use the links below to assess your current self-care, then use the mindful resources to create a plan you can follow. You are important. We appreciate you. Take care.