More and more school districts around the country are prioritizing Social-Emotional Learning. Researchers are finding that a well implemented Social-Emotional Learning, or SEL, program can result in increased attendance, test scores, grades, and even graduation rates. Furthermore, some districts report a decrease in costs related to remedial services and interventions following the implementation of SEL programming.
What exactly is Social-Emotional Learning?
One of the most trusted resources, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines Social-Emotional Learning as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”
CASEL has created a framework of SEL that many districts have come to rely on. In this framework, CASEL shares 5 core competencies that are essential for Social Emotional Learning.
Educators are noticing that addressing student SEL needs in an intentional and planned manner actually frees up more time during the day for academic learning. Some districts have moved towards dedicating time for SEL instruction and application during Morning Meetings and Advisory classes.
Morning Meetings are a popular way for elementary schools to build community and foster SEL growth. Typically done at the beginning of each day, Morning Meetings help students transition into the school environment. The daily 4-part routine allows each student an opportunity to be welcomed, share their thoughts and ideas, and practice important SEL skills.
Step 1: Greeting - It is important for each student to be welcomed at the beginning of the day. Some teachers accomplish this by individually welcoming students as they enter the classroom. Oftentimes, teachers will offer a choice in how they will be greeted. They can choose from a list that typically includes: high five, hug, hand shake, wave, etc. If teachers aren’t available to stand at the door to greet kids, a greeting is worked into the beginning of the Morning Meeting routine. Each student is greeted with their name and eye contact, and sometimes a welcoming statement from the teacher and peers, allowing each student to feel seen, included, and important to the class.
Step 2: Sharing - Many students start the school day preoccupied with events from the night before or from their morning at home. Sharing time gives students the space and opportunity to address those thoughts, allowing them to eventually move on with their day. This is also a time for teachers to do a “feelings check” to see what students need in order to be available for learning. Teachers can be creative in how they structure this sharing time. It is sometimes easy to use a stuffed animal to facilitate the sharing. Talking, or sharing, sticks are a good way to make sure each student has a turn to voice what is on their minds. The most important factor in this time is that each student has an opportunity to have their thoughts and feelings heard and respected.
Step 3: Activity - This is the portion of the Morning Meeting that gives students the opportunity to receive direct instruction related to SEL. Teachers might choose to lead an activity related to one of CASEL’s 5 core competencies or take the time to foster classroom community with a team building game. This time can be flexible, which gives the teachers the chance to talk through any recent events or situations that need to be discussed. It’s a great opportunity for teachers to ask a question or pose a scenario for students to talk about.
Step 4: Morning Message - The last part of the Morning Meeting is to read a message from their teacher. The purpose of this time is to wrap up the Meeting and transition the students to their school day. The morning message frequently includes any schedule changes or exciting events that the students might experience that day. This is also an opportunity for teachers to incorporate academics into the morning meeting by reviewing concepts from the previous day or by providing a “teaser” related to what will be learned later.
Just like academic learning, Social-Emotional Learning needs to look different as students increase in age. For older students, there is less benefit from the daily, direct instruction involved with Morning Meetings. As students age, they require fewer isolated lessons and more opportunities for integrating what they have learned into real-life situations. Many districts have found success meeting the needs of Grade 6-12 students through Advisory classes.
Advisory classes and Morning Meetings are similar in that they build community and address SEL. The biggest difference is the frequency of the meetings. While Morning Meetings occur on a daily basis, Advisory classes are periodic and encourage students to apply their learned skills throughout the school day and in extracurriculars.
Successful Advisory classes include a long-term cohort of students, which allows students to get to know each other well and maintain relationships even when other classes are changing. According to CASEL, Advisory classes should include 3 Signature Practices:
Teenagers don’t always love SEL lessons. If done incorrectly, they can feel contrived and inauthentic. One way to combat artificial feeling lessons is to include students in the planning and development of lessons to ensure the topics are relevant. Instead of leading teacher-directed activities, teachers can work to create leadership opportunities where students can practice and apply the skills they’ve learned.
As students move through the upper grades, it becomes more and more important to offer opportunities for students to utilize their SEL skills. Extracurricular activities are a great setting for students to flex their relationship building muscles. Another option is to offer peer mentorship opportunities where older students can guide younger students through activities that address SEL areas. Ideally, SEL skills should be embedded throughout the school day. Humanities classes, such as Social Studies and English, are natural opportunities to bring in topics that discuss Social Awareness or Responsible Decision Making (2 of CASEL’s 5 Core Competencies). It is important for all teachers to look for opportunities to integrate SEL into their classes.
For Advisory classes and SEL integration to be successful, educators will need support. Some teachers feel ill-equipped to handle sensitive topics with students. This seems to be even more common in the secondary grades as some of the teachers were drawn to the field because of a high interest in an academic area, such as mathematics. Additionally, teachers will need training related to appropriate boundaries. The role of an educator in an Advisory class is to facilitate class learning and discussions. Teachers should not feel like they need to take the place of specialized personnel such as social workers, counselors, and psychologists.
The bottom line is that learning cannot occur if students’ SEL needs are not met. Ignoring the need for SEL frequently results in behavioral concerns and wasted time later on. Whether it is through Morning Meetings, Advisory classes, or a customized time for addressing student SEL needs; the key idea is that students will be more successful when schools address the whole child, not just the academics.
Barack, L. (2019, March 20). Advisory programs reinforce academic, SEL skills. K-12 Dive. https://www.k12dive.com/news/advisory-programs-reinforce-academic-sel-skills/550690/
Blad, E. (2021, May 3). How schools can make advisories meaningful for students and teachers. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/how-schools-can-make-advisories-meaningful-for-students-and-teachers/2019/03
CASEL. (n.d.). Sel 3 signature practices playbook - casel schoolguide. CASEL SEL 3 Signature Practices. https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2023, June 29). Fundamentals of SEL. CASEL. https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/
Sawchuk, S. (2021, October 14). Why high school SEL programs feel ’lame’-and how to fix them. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/why-high-school-sel-programs-feel-lame-and-how-to-fix-them/2021/10
Woolf, N. (2021, December 6). Morning meetings: Cultivating a culture of care and safety. Panorama Education. https://www.panoramaed.com/blog/morning-meeting