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Teacher to Teacher: Fostering Social-Emotional Learning

by Lynne R. Dorfman

As young people’s bodies and brains are changing rapidly, they’re also trying to wrestle with who they are and who they want to be. Today’s students have a tougher time than ever, in part – thanks to technology. They’re growing up on Instagram and Snapchat—braces and voice changes and acne breakouts and bad haircuts and fashion pressures and  first crushes for all to see –-and face-to-face communication is almost nonexistent because everyone (sometimes, parents as well) are glued to their phones and various devices.

In today’s classrooms, social-emotional learning practices have found a prominent place. Everywhere, we find educators and our communities talking about raising self-awareness and focusing on kindness, empathy, and the interpersonal skills that help us navigate through school, work, and relationships with family and friends.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can be defined as the process through which children and adults alike understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. It stands to reason that if you help children develop strong social-emotional skills, then they will be able to cope with everyday challenges.  SEL provides a foundation for positive, long-term effects on kids, adults, and communities.

SEL practices help build a foundation that supports students’ success academically. When kids are equipped with social-emotional skills, they can learn and contribute to a positive school climate. There are many simple things we can do in the beginning of the year to promote social-emotional learning.

With elementary school students, start a card file to record the things you are learning about them. Josh has a new baby brother named Jonathan. Aliyah went to the shelter with her mom, and they rescued an older dog named Cooper. Jamal will be on a traveling ice hockey team this school year, and Cado (Carlos Eduardo) just moved here from Portugal. These notes come in handy during writing workshop when students are trying to think of a topic to write about. They also are great ways to welcome students to class. “Aliyah, how is Cooper adjusting to his new home?”

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