Social-Emotional Learning: It’s Not Just For Students
Despite being in critical response mode, care of COVID-19, I want you to imagine a perfect world in which educators and students are both taken care of equally. Imagine administrators in schools focusing on student’s mental health by providing more mental health professionals in each building and providing students additional access to support. Now imagine a world where students and teachers are both taken care of – teachers’ mental health being valued and provided for by school leaders. The goal being each cohort is trained on and able to implement SEL skills in order to more successfully navigate outside of school challenges and bring their best selves to the classroom each day.
Personally, when I imagine this scenario, my whole world lights up, and the possibilities seem endless in helping both staff and students to be socially and emotionally equipped. My career in social work has led me to look beyond SEL evidenced-based programs to solely help support students. But also to seek out SEL programming that will help support teachers in navigating their own obstacles when it comes to self-care and mental health.
We must consider that school is the second home to both students and teachers, and teachers spend on average 5.5 hours a day for 9 months out of the year with students. I am of the belief that we may be neglecting a huge partnership that plays a significant role in education, our teachers. If we holistically address the students’ needs, and we neglect to see that our teachers also come through the door facing many life challenges, we are missing a critical point.
Personally, when I imagine this scenario, my whole world lights up, and the possibilities seem endless in helping both staff and students to be socially and emotionally equipped.
A Story About Stress & SEL
At a recent training, the presenter opened up our time together like this…
She was holding a Coke bottle and every time something negative happened in the story she shook the bottle. A child went to bed late because mom just picked him/her up from the babysitters. Shake the bottle. The child wakes up late and mom yells at the child to hurry up. Shake the bottle. Dad picks up the child because the parents are divorced. Shake the bottle. Mom argues with the father because he’s late again. Shake the bottle. The child goes to school and looks in his book bag and realized he/she forgot his/her homework. Shake the bottle. The teacher calls him/her up and has a talk with him/her about homework. Shake the bottle.
Now, what happens when you try to take a drink from this bottle? BOOM, it explodes, and the sticky Coke is seemingly everywhere. Now repeat the activity with a teacher in mind. We don’t know how good or bad things are in their day to day life. We don’t know what happened to them last night or last week and yet they keep showing up to work and working hard to give 100% in the classroom. I wholeheartedly believe that in order to ensure student’s social-emotional health we must strive to address the social-emotional health of teachers and staff.
Evidence-Based Practice: SEL & Teachers
In their article, Social-Emotional Learning and Teachers, Schonert-Reichl (2017), address the importance of boosting the social-emotional competence of teachers by providing research on evidence-based programs that can help students and teachers develop or grow these skills. The article states, “classrooms with warm teacher-child relationships promote deeper learning outcomes among students” (Schonert-Reichl, 2017). When teachers lack a more thorough understanding of their emotional intelligence, students can make them feel easily frustrated or overwhelmed. I have had experiences working with teachers who excel in this area, with an emphasis on promoting relationship building along with teaching. These teachers demonstrate strong social and emotional modeling and excel in classroom management.
Schonert-Reichl (2017) also states that “children who feel comfortable with their teachers and peers are more willing to grapple with challenging material and persist at difficult learning tasks (p. 139).” While this remains true, we must also consider that even when a teacher is doing their best they may still have that a student who requires additional supports than what the teacher can offer at any given time. We are compelled to create space and place for teacher support. How many today can say that they’ve had an experience with a frustrated teacher who has cried to them because they don’t know what to do? I can.
This is your opportunity to develop that deeper relationship with said teacher. Let them know that it’s perfectly okay to have these feelings. Actively listen to them, acknowledge their feelings, provide coaching, and above all else – demonstrate empathy. Keep in mind that YES teachers believe that the social-emotional health of students is important however, not all teachers are prepared to meet those needs.
I wholeheartedly believe that in order to ensure student’s social-emotional health we must strive to address the social-emotional health of teachers and staff.
Additionally, this article points out that teaching is among one of the most stressful jobs – noting that 46% of teachers are feeling stressed out (Schonert-Reichl, 2017)! Stress can detrimentally and dangerously impact our health and well being. This can, in turn, have teachers unintentionally bringing stress into their classrooms with students “suffering collateral damage” (Schonert-Reichl, 2017). When we ourselves have too much on our plate can we function at full capacity? Sometimes, maybe, but maybe not at all.
Where can you start? Send out an email to check-in. Let them know you’re here to support the entire community. Remind them about confidentiality guidelines. Step into this new venture confident that you are making a difference. Surely, this will not happen seamlessly in a day or two. This is a process, it will take time, but what better agent of change than YOU.
I invite you to take the time to read this article and decide for yourself if giving teachers training and also taking care of their mental health can make a difference in your practice setting. Join us at SSWNetwork to explore ways to provide teachers additional support in best supporting their students and themselves, especially as we all begin to anticipate how and when our schools will re-open after the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
Schonert-Reichl, K. A. (2017). Social and Emotional Learning and Teachers. The Future of Children, 27(1), 137–155. doi: 10.1353/foc.2017.0007
Editor’s Note: You can read more of Laura’s work on SSWN here: “Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies: A SSWN Research Brief” and also listen to the “Middle School Social Work in a Pandemic” that she led on 4/23/2020 at our SSWN YouTube link.