10 Ways Educators Can Slowly Implement Social and Emotional Learning Programs

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Social and emotional learning (SEL) initiatives can encompass different strategies at every school or school district, and educational approaches to SEL may not look the same from classroom to classroom. As school districts across the country are integrating SEL into the curriculum, the daily educational environment for children has evolved from a primarily intellectual-based learning approach to emotional growth exercises as well.

Not all districts embrace SEL by implementing packaged SEL programs such as leadership endeavors or other fully-integrated social and emotional learning initiatives. While district-wide or classroom-based SEL approaches may include focused programs developed to integrate SEL into the learning environment, individualized approaches to emotional learning also may be effective. How an educator or a district chooses to embrace social and emotional learning varies greatly, and each approach may be tailored to an individual student, an entire classroom or the whole district.

So what options are available for districts and educators? And do all students require—or benefit from– the same types of SEL programs and interventions?

District-Wide Approaches to SEL

The Sacramento City Unified School District is one of many districts across the country that has embraced SEL at the district level. Every school within the district has integrated social and emotional learning into the common-core based curriculum. However, the district also has implemented SEL instruction using Second Step and School Connect programs. According to the SCUSD web site, social and emotional learning within the classroom includes: “a supportive equity-based, positive classroom environment,” “integration of SEL into academic instructional practices” and “explicit SEL instruction.”

  • Fully-Integrated SEL Programs

The Second Step program integrates SEL into classrooms in ways that are appropriate for each grade-level. Instructional materials for the program include cards to help children understand emotions, ways to play fairly, and how to regulate emotions. Second Step also helps teach kids bullying prevention, problem-solving skills and even includes lessons for middle school students.

School Connect is another fully-integrated SEL program, but it’s designed strictly for the high school level. The program focuses on teamwork, social awareness, strengthening relationships and helping teens understand the importance of learning and school. The program also places a strong emphasis of college prep, conflict resolution and self management.

  • One-of-a-Kind Programs

According to CASEL, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) created its own unique SEL program called Humanware. The program was the result of a tragedy— a student who had been suspended came back to school and shot two teachers, two students and then committed suicide. Humanware includes “implementation of the PATHS curriculum in grades PreK-5, the Second Step program in grade 6, student support teams, mental health services in schools, bullying prevention and mediation programs, and a unique intervention called Planning Centers, a constructive alternative to in-school suspensions.”

The program has been a district-wide success, with students at multiple levels showing significant gains in areas like social awareness and self-management.

School-Based Opportunities for SEL

While many districts have chosen to implement SEL across all schools and all grades, others take a different approach. Some districts choose to implement an SEL program at one pilot location to determine the benefits of the program or a school may implement a program independent of the district. SEL programs are vast and can include leadership-based programs, yoga and meditation classes that integrate SEL.

  • Leadership Programs

One of the examples of school wide implementation includes leadership-based SEL programs like the Stephen Covey-based “The Leader in Me” program.  Across the country, many schools have embraced the program and its focus on the seven habits of success. Through the program, children are taught how to lead and given leadership roles within their schools. However, “The Leader in Me” also emphasizes teamwork, self-management, relationship skills and problem-solving. Like Covey’s other programs, “The Leader in Me” program focuses on seven core ‘habits’ that form the basis for leadership skills and emotional development. The seven habits include:  be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think ‘win-win,’ seek first to understand then be understood, synergize, and sharpen the saw.

  • Yoga & Meditation Classes

Schools around the country integrate focused SEL programs into their classrooms and learning environments. While leadership programs encompass SEL, so do yoga and meditation programs. And these may be used to help students who need to learn self-control and self management skills. Yoga and meditation also helps reduce anxiety and stress levels, which is beneficial for all students.

Individualized SEL

Some schools may focus SEL lessons for particular students or at certain grade levels. There are also many schools that might not have integrated SEL programs into the curriculum but may still offer individualized programs after school. However, SEL doesn’t have to be found only in the classroom setting; there are many opportunities for parents to bring SEL into the home. Here are a few ideas to integrate SEL after school or at home.

  • SEL Online Toolkits for At-Home  Initiatives

Social and emotional learning doesn’t have to be formal or even part of a rigid program. Parents can work with their children at home to help develop stronger emotional skills. Parents can download an SEL toolkit and use the resources to implement SEL at home.  However, parents also can utilize online based SEL programs like EmpowerMind.

  • Parents Leading by Example

While online programs or SEL toolkits may give parents a basis for SEL in the home, SEL also may include simple techniques that are integrated into the home environment. Teaching kids about self-regulation, teamwork and emotional understanding in the home means showing them examples. SEL at home begins with parents and caregivers. Kids and teens need to see SEL in action, and they learn and mirror what they see and hear on a daily basis. Listening, regulating emotions in a positive way, practicing non-violent solutions to conflict resolutions and working together as a family all create positive reinforcements for social and emotional growth.

  • After School Opportunities

Some parents may not have the ability to be present for their children as much as they would like. So many families are single-parent households, and young children may be in daycare or after-school activities when a parent is working. Many schools offer engaging SEL-based programs that are integrated into after-school care. Working parents also may want to investigate programs available through their YMCA.

SEL programs and SEL implementation is encompasses many unique approaches that can vary with each district, school, classroom and individual.Parents and caregivers should research SEL opportunities that exist within their child’s school district, and, if SEL isn’t a part of the standard curriculum, begin a social and emotional learning journey at home or look for after school opportunities that offer an SEL-based approach to learning and enrichment.


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