The kids are coming back to school soon, and we need to be ready for them. Especially this summer, where we might be going back to a wide array of teaching models, bringing social-emotional learning into our back to school routines is more important than ever!
What is SEL?
The short answer is that SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) is the practice of teaching our kids how to handle all of the emotions, feelings, and pressures that they face as well as others face. When we infuse SEL into our daily instruction, we help kids self-regulate and bring them into a space that not only helps them learn, but also helps them feel safe emotionally.
How To Infuse SEL When We Go Back to School
Here are some tips and tricks for implementing SEL with your kids!
Tip #1: Get To Know You Activities
The process of starting school is busy. We always have 8 million things to do, right!?! Be careful to balance your time between the all-important rules and procedures you need to teach and the get-to-know-you activities that will help students feel at ease in their classrooms. I usually do some activities that help me get to know students as learners, as kids, and as human beings. We get up out of our seats as often as possible!
Tip #2: Use Literature
The world of teaching needs books and stories, and SEL is no different! There are lots of great books about the first days of school, about emotions and identities, and about social awareness of others. Picture books are your best bet for these types of lessons, but chapter books work great, too! How To Get Your Teacher Ready is one of my favorites to use! It breaks the ice with your kids, shows them your silly side, and also slides right in to talking about rules and procedures in your classroom.
Tip #3: Mental Health Tools
I know, I know… most likely, if you are reading this, you’re not a school counselor. Guess what…. IT DOESN’T MATTER! We can all help foster a healthy and positive classroom environment and culture. You can use techniques like grounding, repeating mantras, and creating a sensory tool bin for your students. Work in conjunction with your school counselor or social worker when you can, but know that YOU have the power to create this environment too!
Tip #4: The Upstairs and Downstairs Brain
Dr. Dan Siegel, a well-known psychologist that often works with children, developed the idea of an upstairs brain and the downstairs brain. In my classroom, sometime during the first week of school, I teach the kids about how we want to be in the upstairs brain (where we can self-regulate, calm ourselves, and react in a way that is positive) and how we can help get ourselves out of the downstairs brain when we need to (by using tools and techniques that are proven to help our brains calm down).
Tip #5: Be Silly, Have Fun, and Smile!
If you’re as old as I am (*ahem ahem), you might have heard of the phrase “Don’t smile until Christmas”. While I respect my elders, I quite honestly think that this advice is terrible. Kids want to be in an environment that feels safe, loving, caring, and fun! Make sure that when you are setting the tone of your classroom, you include lots of praise and laughter along the way! Those classroom procedures can get heavy really quickly. I use my Classroom Rules and Procedures Task Cards as a way to practice these and get my kids up and moving around the room.
- Explicitly let kids know how excited you are to meet them (and then change it to “see them” after the first day). Kids need to hear it!
- Rules and procedures are important, but building community and relationships are the foundations upon which those rules stay grounded.
- Allow your students to be part of the classroom. If they can help create rules and expectations WITH you, they’re more likely to respond positively. Resist having rules pre-posted before the first day of school, and make them together as a class.
You Can Do This!
The first few days of school can be overwhelming and exhausting. By pre-planning how you’re going to infuse SEL into the first few days, you’ll ease your anxiety… and the stress of the students! It’s a win-win!
Need Some Guidance?
I know you can do this, but if you need a little “booster” to get started, check out these charts I use in my classroom. I teach how to use them explicitly during the first week of school. Students use the following acronym to get them started:
P = Pause
A = Assess (How Do You Feel?)
C = Choose (Something To Help)
R = Reflect (Did The Tool Help?)