Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Teaching Strategies

Integrating the ABC's of Learning

Students are more likely to become engaged in learning within classrooms that foster the ABC's of student motivation: Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence (Deci & Flaste, 1995). Autonomy refers to acting in accordance with oneself and being free and volitional in one's actions. When autonomous, we are fully willing to do what we are doing; we pursue an activity with interest, focused attention, and perseverance. Throughout the School-Connect curriculum, students are given opportunities to exercise autonomy through activities that offer them "voice and choice." In Think-Pair-Shares, they take time to consider how they think and/or feel about a question or prompt, share their response with another student, and then discuss and contrast different viewpoints with the larger class. Philosophical Chairs and other large and small group exercises provide additional opportunities for freely voicing and exploring ideas. Finally, culminating projects at the end of each module allow students to choose curriculum topics they want to learn more about using a project-based learning model. Emphasizing student autonomy is a student-centered approach in contrast to a didactic approach emphasizing teacher lecture that is often found in academic courses in high school.

Learning itself is considered a social process. Students learn best in collaboration with teachers and peers, rather than in isolation, and benefit from the support of their families. When students know one another on a more personal level and enjoy a rapport with their teacher, they tend to feel safe and supported in class. Research that correlates "school connectedness" -- feeling a sense of belonging in school-with academic motivation and achievement underscores the social foundation of learning (Resnick, et al., 1997; Learning First Alliance, 2001). This is the reason the curriculum is named School-Connect and why the first module -- Creating a Supportive Learning Community -- takes time to develop the attitudes, skills, and behaviors that lead students to experience a sense of belonging.

Just as learning is social in nature, it is also an affective process within the individual. As students develop a growing sense of competence in social, emotional, and academic realms, they gain a greater sense of self-efficacy-the belief that they can affect their lives and the lives of others in positive ways. Their improving skills help motivate them to seek challenges, persevere in the face of obstacles, and find interest and joy in discovery and achievement. When students repeatedly display these attributes, it is more likely that they will become self-directed, lifelong learners (Dweck, 2000, 2006). By providing multiple opportunities for practicing skills, reflecting on their benefits, and applying them in real-life situations, School-Connect helps students build a sense of competence and self-confidence.

Actively Engaging Students

In addition to creating the conditions for learning, School-Connect uses learning strategies that actively engage students on many levels. Each lesson engages students visually with a PowerPoint presentation; many have brief videos that further pull students in. A typical lesson keeps students moving, relating, and reflecting. It begins with a bell ringer, an activity that students complete as soon as they enter the classroom and sit down at their desks. They become acquainted with the goals of the lesson through essential questions, which are then explored through interactive activities, many of which get them up and out of their seats (e.g., quick shares, jigsaws, lightning rounds, role plays, philosophical chairs) and changing partners and/or groups. The wrap up leads back to the essential questions and a reflection/application activity in which students apply learning to their own lives. Professional Learning Community (PLC) Notes, available on the iPortal and written by R. Keeth Matheny, a School-Connect co-author and high school teacher, focus on techniques for engaging students and building relationships.

Interacting with different classmates allows students to share experiences and discover what they have in common, helping to increase empathy and break down labels and stereotypes. The program also encourages teachers to share their own life experiences, which helps students learn to meet new challenges and adjust to school.These simple strategies have a dynamic effect on classroom climate. Teachers report that School-Connect helped them become better listeners and develop closer relationships with their students. This is critically important, as research indicates that students benefit greatly from having at least one caring adult advocate at school (Benard, 1991; 2004).

The curriculum further aims to create connections between school and home, and between students and their families. Many of the homework assignments involve students in activities with a parent or other family member. For example, parents discuss their children's character strengths with them and hear how their children view themselves, share an experience they had while growing up and compare and contrast this to what their children experience, and identify obstacles they have overcome to reach a personal goal. Homework and classroom assignments ask students to share and practice the skills and concepts with their families, while maintaining an awareness of cultural differences that may require adaptation of some skills.

Facilitating Interactive Learning

In contrast to a business-as-usual approach, School-Connect aims to change the classroom environment by creating reciprocal exchanges among teachers and students and by increasing the skill level of all class members, including the teachers. In this approach, teachers become facilitators of learning and students become active participants in classroom processes. See box is-shadowless Key School-Connect Strategies.

Because School-Connect requires a new way of teaching and interacting with students, the program offers guidance to school administrators in selecting teachers for the course based on their experience and comfort level with SEL concepts and strategies. Program presenters should hold and reflect the belief that social and emotional learning is a worthwhile and lifelong process. It is beneficial if the teachers also possess humility, a sense of humor, and an openness to change. Administrators should select presenters on this basis, rather than on what teachers are available to teach the course.

Key School-Connect Strategies

  • Teachers talk less and listen more.
  • Teachers and students use active listening techniques to check for understanding.
  • Students seek collaborative responses to 'essential questions' and voice their own questions.
  • Students build on each other's responses, identify when they offer a diverging opinion, and welcome questions regarding their ideas.
  • Lessons provide many and varied opportunities for students to interact with each other in pairs and in small groups.
  • Real-life experiences are honored as learning tools.
  • Class members practice intellectual dispositions such as being open-minded and truth-seeking.
  • Students have opportunities to choose their own topics of study and display what they have learned through culminating projects for lesson modules.

Student Survey Results

What have you learned from this class?

  • “I learned how to be a lot better about my grades”
  • “I learned to keep my priorities straight”
  • “How to communicate my feelings”
  • “I learned that being a good listener is a good thing”
  • “It takes up to 20 interactions to change a first impression”
  • “How bad bullying really is”
  • “How to take effective notes”
  • “How to cope with stress”
  • “I learned how to go through tough situations”
  • “That it is important to talk to your teachers”
  • “Always stay on top of my grades”
  • “I learned how to control my anger if anything happened”
  • “The benefits of going to college”
  • “Teen dating and relationships”
  • “I learned how not to let peer pressure get to you”
  • “Dealing with gossip”
  • “I have learned how to prepare myself for tests”
  • “How to step back and manage my”

What Students are Saying...

“It’s very important that we get these lessons because, personally, School-Connect made me become a different person-and it was for the better.”

— Amanda, student, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, MD