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Updated: Sep 13, 2021

It is great news that the Ohio Department of Education values Social-Emotional Learning so much that it has created standards in order for that learning to be fulfilled. I do understand, however, that it is a double-edged sword for educators. While you do realize the importance of teaching that content, it can also seem like a daunting challenge. It can lead to questions like what do I teach, how do I teach it, and where do I find the time!

This and subsequent blogs will be dedicated to answering those questions. I will provide the content and a range of possible activities with which to teach that content, connected to the standards they are designed to fulfill. I will also discuss the ways in which the content can be woven into other subject matter.

First, it is helpful to understand that the standards are divided into 5 competencies – self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. While they are often presented in that order, they do not have to be taught in that order.

As we have discussed from the beginning of these blogs, everything we do is based on a choice. Having that information first can support conscious, well-informed, socially-emotionally intelligent choices. Therefore, I suggest addressing some aspects of the responsible decision-making competency first.

We can provide students with the knowledge that we are always making choices, often unconsciously. By doing we can begin to fulfill the first two objectives of the competency, which are “Develop, implement and model effective decision and critical thinking skills”, and “Identify potential outcomes to help make constructive decisions.” We will continue to address these objectives, but this is a necessary beginning.

We can fulfill these objectives simply. We can help students understand that they are always choosing by pointing out choices made by ourselves and our students throughout the day. We can provide opportunities for making choices in areas such as topics to pursue and activities in which to engage.

Spending a little more time, we can help students understand the unconscious nature of choice-making through an activity called the “Choice Walk”. You ask a volunteer to walk from one side of the room to the other, and ask the rest of the class to watch very closely as they do so. Following the walk, ask the observers to describe the choices the volunteer made, such as how fast or slow he or she walked, where he or she looked, where his or her hands were.

The ask the volunteer whether he or she thought about other choices that might have been available before taking action, or did the person make the choices quickly, without thinking about them? Most students will reveal that they made the choices without thinking. Then ask all the students to share choices they made today without thinking, such as what they were wearing and what they had for breakfast.

In order to help students make increasingly effective choices, you can help students understand how to consider the choices they make – looking at alternatives; choosing one; acting on the choice; evaluating the choice, keeping the choice or making a new one. You could even demonstrate this process by asking the volunteer who walked across the room to make a conscious choice about one of the aspects of walking across the room, such as speed. You could ask him or her to choose between keeping the speed he walked originally, or changing the speed. He could then walk at the chosen speed and evaluate whether or not it was satisfactory.

In order to help students understand others’ perspectives with regards to choices, you could present the students pairs of alternatives to choose between, such as favorite subject, place to live and hobby. You could discuss the influences on our choices, such as our experiences, our families, and the media.

You could also weave in the concept of choices made while teaching other content. You could discuss choices made by various historical figures and characters in stories and plays.

In the next blog, we will explore other content and activities with which to continue fulfilling the effective decision-making competencies. I hope that you will begin to increasingly look at providing social-emotional learning as an exciting opportunity instead of a daunting challenge…

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