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Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Strategies

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Social Emotional Learning (SEL) provides an intervention designed to build students’ skills for managing emotions, having empathy for others, forming positive relationships and making responsible decisions. SEL helps students to be better equipped to deal with challenges socially, academically and professionally. There are conceptual and scientific studies of SEL that have been explored, delivering practical approaches to help students better understand their emotions and feelings, and those of others.

There can often be issues in implementing SEL strategies due to a lack of funding and resources. But both schools and educators have a responsibility to improve education for all students.

It is important for schools to be prepared for students who need to discuss topics that would be best done in an audience of two. Ideally a designated staff should be available for students who need it. Sometimes a brief connection with a trusted staff member from outside the classroom can improve student performance once they return to class. Often a Behavior Specialists or Mental Health Service provider who are knowledgeable about the experiences Black students have in school and in their communities are usually not an option. Teachers just don’t have the capacity, already busy managing tight deadlines, lesson planning for different content, organizing the classroom environments for many students with a limited schedule.

If you do not have designated staff available in your school for students who need it, write letters to your admin/principal/school board/superintendent/school governors and advocate on behalf of teachers and students.

Silence about sensitive issues causes emotional traumas to build to a boil. Some things need to be discussed in the open in order for students to heal and move forward. Anti-SEL and Anti-CRT (Critical Race Theory) legislation are harmful to student development because they remove opportunities for healthy classroom dialogue where students can learn how to engage in and contribute to the exchange of ideas that strengthen democracy. Often Black boys can become invisible in classrooms if it is assumed they are not engaged based on their body language, or silence. There is a longstanding tradition of not academically challenging Black boys in school and an unintentional focus on literature and activities that appeal more to female students. To help improve this, teachers can take the time to get to know all of their students and encourage their natural leaders to be supportive, and their supportive students to lead through specially designed opportunities. This helps to build a healthy learning community that benefits all students.

Black students often engage in self-stimming behaviors like drumming on desks, repeating lyrics, or dancing that can help them to focus while sitting in a classroom. Since Black students are less likely to be represented in Autism diagnosed special education programs and sometimes have anxiety or ADHD without a formal diagnosis or education plan, it could be helpful to purchase fidgets and allow for accommodations that help make learning environments more inclusive and effective for their growth. When students begin to understand what helps them with managing their own behavior in class, they will advocate for themselves and begin to independently make those adjustments. Not only are Black students disproportionately affected by school disciplinary practices, but research findings indicate that they are more frequently characterized with emotional disturbance and defiance for behaviors that overlap with characteristics of Autism (note that Autism prevalence is fairly low and it is very common for anxious individuals who are not Autistic to self-stimulate).

Curriculum and pedagogy are key factors in student learning, but research indicates that there are some school practices that result in the disengagement and low achievement of Black students. A study by a team of researchers including Jo Boaler finds that inequities are caused by teaching mathematics as a set of procedures to follow (The derailing impact of content standards–an equity focused district held back by narrow mathematics – ScienceDirect). The study recommends that math be taught with reasoning opportunities allowing students to share different ideas, visuals, and methods. Integrating subjects can lead to increased engagement and improve critical thinking, and students begin to see that mathematics is deeper than speed or memorization. Abstract subjects like Algebra can be taught using technology, historical, artistic, or geographic content with students working on group projects. It is especially useful when these projects culminate in or include community exploration.

This page was last updated on 05, December, 2022

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SEL Strategies

  • Dedicated School Specialist – a school mental health expert or emotional intelligence officer.
  • Transparent Dialogue About Race – no silencing or shaming, having open discussion about issues and individual experiences.
  • Intentional Inclusion– incorporating activities and tools to make everyone engaged in the curriculum and have a valuable learning experience.
  • Humanistic STEM Projects– using technology and artistic content with students working on group projects with reasoning opportunities improving critical thinking.

SEL Resources

Consider Amazon Kids that provides unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. Starting at just £1.99 per month.