The Learning Accelerator Blog/Supporting Students with SEL Strategies

social-emotional learning

Supporting Students with SEL Strategies

by Ashley Fellows on February 9 2024

As we’re approaching assessment season and spring breaks, students find themselves caught in a whirlwind of emotions surrounding time away from traditional schedules and a break from their studies. In my time as a teacher and school leader, I observed this period manifesting in stress, anxiety, and a myriad of feelings for my students — after all, these months come with a flurry of exams, modified schedules, classroom celebrations, and inconsistent attendance. Time away from school can also mean a break from friends, a daily routine, or even access to predictable meals. These challenges continue when students return, as they adjust back to the routine and structure of school – often while their teachers are stressed themselves, gearing up for formal evaluations and end-of-year tasks. Despite the joy associated with a well-deserved spring break, this time of year can be taxing on students’ well-being and tricky for teachers to navigate.

Skills That Help Students Cope

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), five core social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies effectively support students’ development and their ability to navigate challenging moments like these. They include:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Responsible Decision-Making
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness

As students develop their skills and beliefs around each competency, they are better able to respond to changing circumstances and environments, both on their own and in partnership with teachers and peers. This results in positive relationships, the ability to manage emotions, and the ability to solve problems as they arise.

TLA partners with educators to build their SEL practices with students in service of developing these core competencies. We know time is finite, so we’re sharing a few options to support students through SEL, no matter how much or little time a teacher might have.

    Have a Minute? Identify and Name the Feelings

    Encouraging a quick emotions scan can work wonders in fostering self-awareness among students. By taking just one minute of class time to reflect on their emotions and needs, students gain insight into their mental states and how they may be tied to a particular time of year.

    This strategy not only reinforces that students’ feelings are normal but also temporary and likely shared by others around them. This affirmation and connection is a critical first step in addressing how emotions can affect engagement and/or behaviors.

    Have 10 Minutes? Focus on Building a Sense of Team in Your Classroom

    Research consistently finds that belonging, “a sense that one has a rightful place in a given academic setting and can claim full membership in a classroom community (Farrington et al. 2012),” supports student learning. Holding time for team-building activities offers students the chance to connect and support one another, fostering a sense of belonging. These activities also help students work together, talk openly, and understand each other, which can often make learning more enjoyable.

    Even with limited time, these quick moments help students build relationship skills while creating a classroom where everyone feels included and supported, benefiting both you and your students. Not sure where to start? Ask students for their favorite activities from years past – they’ll enjoy the nostalgia and opportunity to teach their educator something new.

    Have 15 Minutes? Practice Intentional Problem Solving

    The difficult moments students encounter offer a relevant and authentic chance to intentionally identify and collaboratively solve challenges students may be facing. Not only does this have immediate benefits and applications (students can elevate and address concerns in real time), it supports the development of critical life-long skills, including responsible decision-making.

    Providing tools and protocols to facilitate problem solving helps students navigate acute issues in addition to having longer-term implications, including normalizing the struggle of difficult situations, improving decision-making skills, and cultivating a growth mindset in students.

    Amid the hustle and bustle surrounding school breaks and assessments, it is more important than ever to maintain a focus on student well-being. As stress and anxiety ramp up, investing time in nurturing core SEL competencies can significantly benefit students. By incorporating one or more of these strategies, educators can ensure a smoother transition into and out of this season and empower students to navigate this time with resilience, self-awareness, and a sense of community support. The bigger payoff? Purposeful skill development and a chance for both students and their teachers to more fully enjoy the warming weather and their well-deserved time off.

    About the Author

    Ashley Fellows is the Director, Programs Management, at The Learning Accelerator (TLA). An experienced educator and school leader, Ashley brings valuable skills and perspective to the field as we work to create the next chapter in American K-12 education.