Educators set the standard for both academic and behavioral conduct for students. Often, this involves reprimanding students for bad behavior rather than addressing the root causes of their actions. Yet given the challenges the past year has brought, it’s more important than ever that teachers focus on integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) to help students recognize, express, and regulate their emotions. An SEL classroom provides a foundation for positive long-term outcomes by assisting teachers in managing challenging behaviors, while also helping children develop the essential skills they need for the future.
In this blog—part four in our series on SEL—we’re going to talk about how educators can implement preventive and corrective behavior strategies in the classroom.
What Is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) In Schools?
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a behavioral framework that can be used to help children cultivate interpersonal skills and manage their own emotions. It includes five competencies that are distinct from, but also integral to, academic learning—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Check out the first blog in our series to read more about each of these.
5 Ways Classrooms Can Support SEL Behaviors
1. Create Collective Rules
Work with your students to develop classroom rules. This collaborative process can allow students to take ownership over their learning environment and show them that their thoughts are valued. It also lets you, as the educator, model critical SEL competencies like relationship skills and decision-making for your students.
- Identify behaviors for an ideal classroom: Instead of focusing on actions that aren’t acceptable, encourage students to think about positive ways that they and their classmates can interact with each other.
- Establish encouraging rules: Set guidelines that also model this positivity. Rather than “don’t be late to class,” take an affirmative spin by phrasing it as “be on time to class.”
- Reflect on these rules: Give students opportunities to consider the impact and effect the standards are having. Have the policies worked for their SEL classroom? If not, what do they need to change or add?
2. Enforce Policies Consistently
Classrooms must have a culture of consistency where everyone knows how the classroom is organized. This means a steady enforcement of the established class routines, policies, procedures, and consequences.
Teachers must regularly communicate shared values and reinforce class expectations. With face-to-face learning, this can be done by creating a visual of rules to which teachers and students can refer. In an online and hybrid setting, teachers can implement class contracts that students can sign, agreeing to model the ideal behaviors. Regardless of how these rules are shared with students, consistency is key.
3. Focus on Positive Behavior
Rather than reprimanding negative behavior, teachers should focus on what they would like to see their students exhibit. In order to do this, Kareen Smith from the University of Minnesota, highlights how teachers can positively reinforce correct actions through:
- Natural reinforcement: This results from directly demonstrating the correct behavior. For example, a student who cooperates with their peers in class will be invited to participate in similar activities.
- Social reinforcement: Students receive approval and praise from teachers, parents, or other learners for their actions. This consists of comments such as “well done, “or a simple pat on the back.
- Activity reinforcement: Students will be able to take part in their desired activity after showing correct behavior. For example, being able to pick which day they would like to present their project.
- Tangible reinforcement: Students will receive an award or certificate for their actions. This reinforcement motivates students and praises progress.
- Token reinforcements: When students demonstrate positive behavior, they will be awarded a token or point which they can redeem for something of value. For example, a class store where students can use their points to purchase treats or toys.
Concentrating on positive behaviors helps to support social and emotional learning in the classroom. This approach allows teachers to directly praise SEL core competencies while giving less attention to undesirable behaviors.
4. Affirm Student Feelings
This tactic has two parts. First, teachers should help students recognize that their feelings, whether positive or negative, are valid. Second, students need to learn how to regulate their emotions and understand what reactions may be appropriate for given situations.
5. Evaluate SEL Competencies
Formalize the importance of SEL by including core competencies in regular feedback such as report cards and rubrics. This can be done by:
- Highlighting student progress towards specific SEL skills, such as self-awareness or responsible decision making.
- Providing additional feedback on assignments through using comments. For example, highlight three areas your students did well in and one area for improvement.
- Sharing specific SEL skill feedback regularly with the parents of students to encourage development inside and outside the classroom.
The evaluation of SEL competencies helps educators build on identified student strengths, address student needs, and give students a sense of their progress.
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