#SELChat: Setting the Stage for a Unified Schoolwide Approach
Over the past eight months, I have had countless conversations with educators, from administrators to classroom teachers, about their perspectives on social-emotional learning (SEL). My team and I have asked questions about current practices and needs. The most common response we have received, without question, is the need to build the capacity for the adults in the school community to deliver SEL. Those who’ve shared this perspective have been unequivocal in their explanation. Some have believed so strongly in this course of action, in fact, that they’ve delayed adoption of an SEL plan for students until they have provided training for their teachers. My question is: can the two objectives be met simultaneously? In other words, is there a unified, schoolwide approach that can be adopted? I believe there is.
It Starts with the Kids (But Don’t Forget the Adults!)
Because this work is all about the kids, let’s start with the objective at the root of everything: meeting their well-rounded needs. I was recently asked about the goals of my work and I replied, “1.) To build relationships between caring adults and kids. 2.) To help kids identify and articulate what is going on in their heads and in their hearts. 3.) To teach character traits, otherwise known as SEL competencies.”
Building a relationship doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though. It requires both parties to be engaged in meaningful conversations in an effort to foster healthy connection. These conversations and connections are opportunities to practice SEL skills and competencies. This is why our programs must also have goals for the adults. I recommend the following tactics to encourage faculty and staff, and build their capacity:
• Professional Development Training – Engaging and interactive training for faculty and staff from SEL experts.
• Ongoing Coaching and Support – Webinars, coaching calls, observations, SEL moments in faculty meetings…all of these can be helpful in nurturing and sustaining the adults in the building when they are offered in the right spirit.
• Public Appreciation – From shout outs on morning announcements to monthly recognition in staff meetings, public acknowledgement of a job well done can encourage and inspire dedicated staff.
• Self-Care – Reminding teachers, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers to take care of themselves with regular exercise, healthy eating, and soul-nourishing hobbies affirms their value.
Once we’ve set appropriate goals for both students and staff, we can create a plan that works toward a true schoolwide approach. Support for teachers equals support for students, and vice versa.
How Ongoing Trends Must Inform Our Actions
I have witnessed two competing trends in education over the past 15 years. The first is the insatiable appetite for data, particularly the data that comes from standardized test scores. The problem is that we have become a society that has used the data for punitive means rather than restorative purposes. We must ask ourselves, “What story is the data telling us – about the student, the teacher, the school, the leadership?” We need a holistic approach that uses data to strengthen and support people.
The second trend is the proliferation of education technology and its results. Although many edtech tools provide d