We have learned how to give our students the knowledge and tools with which to make the most socially-emotionally intelligent choices possible. We have discovered how to help them see the big picture of who they want to be and make choices in accordance with that vision. To maximize the probability that these choices will be made, it is helpful to provide a context that best supports and reinforces them.
There are a number of opportunities to develop such a context, to weave social-emotional learning throughout the day. Teachers and other staff members can model the choices they would like to reinforce. They can model and nurture the use of effective communication skills such as active listening, using I messages, and negotiating when appropriate.
When we build students’ social-emotional intelligence, we encourage their development into their most mature and responsible selves. We can trust that this is occurring, and encourage increased competence and growth by offering students multiple opportunities to make choices. For example, where appropriate, they be given opportunities to decide on the topic and mode of expression of their work.
Students can learn the meaning and benefits of cooperation by participating in the development of classroom rules. This sends the message that students know what is necessary for a smooth-running classroom and are capable of achieving it. Students are more likely to take ownership of and abide by rules that they have helped to create.
Choices made by students and staff and the assumptions that may have led to them, can be discussed regularly in the classroom. The questioning of assumptions and seeking of evidence can also be discussed in other content areas, such as science and social studies as an ongoing mode of inquiry.
In order to support fair self-measurement, a growth mindset can be fostered in the classroom. Mistakes can be viewed as a natural and positive step towards learning. Students can feel good about persevering, confident in the final outcome of increased knowledge.
It often seems easier to praise the students with the highest grades. However, it is helpful if we build in opportunities to also publically celebrate effort and growth. This offers encouragement and motivation to students that have to work harder in certain areas.
Experiential opportunities can be built into the structure of the day that can also reinforce social-emotional learning. A regular opportunity to check in and share feelings, especially at the beginning of the day can be beneficial. This is true for older as well as younger students.
Ongoing stress management opportunities can be built in as well, particularly before tests and presentations. There can be a designated “calm corner” in the classroom where students can move to when they feel the need to relieve stress.
Opportunities can be built in to encourage group cohesion, such as fun cooperation games and a regular compliment circle. Constructs can be developed to encourage effective conflict resolution, such as a peace mat where students use I messages and negotiation skills to handle issues. Opportunities for service learning would be beneficial as well. Examples include students acting as mentors to fellow students or as peer mediators.
Focusing on social-emotional learning make seem daunting and time-consuming. However, in addition to helping students become the best they can be, academically and personally, it ultimately makes our jobs easier.
As students learn to make increasingly effective choices, they become increasingly able to absorb content and to handle personal issues. Doing so can help them prevent and deal well with conflicts. There is then less of a need for imposing discipline and time spent on classroom management. Students become increasingly self-disciplined and an atmosphere of growth, respect and support can prevail.