-Brookelyn Bankston, Go Public Intern, UTSA Class of 2022
What is SEL?
SEL is dedicated to not only supporting students on an academic level, but also a social and emotional level. Social and Emotional Learning is supporting students in their experiences and helping them build character and confidence. It is a system to provide support to students and give them a way to understand and deal with their emotions.
The 5 Pillars of SEL
There are 5 pillars of teaching students SEL that aid metacognition.
The first pillar taught in the SEL curriculum is self awareness. This is teaching students how to understand their emotions and how it can affect their behavior.
The second pillar of SEL is self management. After understanding the student’s own emotions, they learn how to deal with them and not act on negative emotions.
The third pillar is social awareness. This is the ability to understand other people’s perspectives even when they don’t align with your own.
The fourth pillar of SEL is relationship skills. This is the ability to interact with people and maintain healthy relationships.
And the last pillar of social emotional learning is responsible decision making. This is learning how to make good decisions that benefit yourself and the people around you. These SEL pillars may not always be included in school curriculum, but they cover important skills to use in everyday life.
How SEL Affects Academic Performance
SEL provides many benefits to students’ well-being and academic performance. If a student is bothered about something that is happening in their life, whether it be at home or at school, they may be less likely to be able to go to class and pay attention. The impact of social-emotional learning on academic achievement is why SEL is so important to incorporate in our schools.
SEL and Covid-19
Covid-19 has made life much harder in many ways. One of the biggest issues among students is mental health. The pandemic caused students to isolate themselves from their peers to protect themselves, and students are not able to interact with their classmates as they were before. This can have a substantial impact on one’s mental stability, and SEL can help students through this difficult time. It can be confusing to have negative thoughts and to not know why. This is where self awareness helps. Students need to learn how to work through their emotions rather than suppress them. Also, learning to make responsible decisions is a huge aspect of SEL during Covid. Being responsible with your health and those around you is a major part of living during a pandemic. Students have shared that the SEL steps that schools take for their social-emotional learning have made it easier to come to school and succeed despite the pandemic.
There are a few key services that SEL has added to schools such as small group counseling, comfort dogs, and check-in/check-outs.
Small Group Counseling
Most schools have counseling available to students and many parents have the same question: What does a school counselor do? School counselors provide many benefits to students and support them inside and outside of the classroom. One of the services of SEL that school counselors offer is small group counseling. This helps students realize they are not alone in their struggles and that everyone has something they are going through. The small group counseling services are helpful because students are not overwhelmed with a lot of people and they are also not anxious about talking to a school counselor alone. Simply being present in a small group counseling service can help tremendously, and more schools are beginning to offer small group counseling to students. Students and staff have spoken out on the many benefits of small group counseling in schools. Catherine Deem is a high school counselor at NEISD and she says, “It doesn’t matter if you think your problem is small or big. Part of mental health is that everybody has something and we are here to help no matter how big or how small.” Deem goes on to add, “It is a time that they are able to open up and it normalizes things for them. They realize ‘I’m not the only one that’s experiencing this’ and it gives them an opportunity to open a little bit about the struggles that a lot of high school kids experience.” Being in a group setting can make students feel more comfortable sharing and expanding on problems that their classmates are also going through. Group counseling also helps normalize students having a mental illness and getting help when they need it.
Comfort Dogs on Campus
Another amazing addition to schools are emotional support dogs. These can also be referred to as comfort dogs or therapy dogs. These furry friends provide many benefits to students. They help with students’ mental health and overall attitude/wellbeing when they walk through the schools’ doors. Therapy dogs are trained for about 18 months to create a safe experience for students. The lengthy therapy dog training ensures that the dogs enjoy the company of people and don’t mind constantly seeing new faces. Kimberly Dameron, Walker Elementary Principal says, “My favorite thing is seeing the kids react to Skye when they’re getting off the bus. You can see it in their shoulders and their faces, once they turn around to see Skye is sitting there to greet them, they all just kind of change their mood immediately.” Having an emotional support animal on campus is an overall morale booster.
More and more schools are adding a part of the day called “check-in/check out”. This is a system in which a student is paired with an adult (not one of their teachers) and meets with them for a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes right before they leave. This is comforting to the students that they know every day there is someone that is excited to meet and talk to them about their day. They talk about what’s going on in their lives and make goals for the day/week, and the mentor is there to keep them on track to accomplish those goals.
As can be seen, there are many SEL activities that will aid our students’ overall wellbeing. It is important that we are supporting our students on a social and emotional level as well as the academic level. The life skills that SEL teaches will be vital in our children’s future. Keeping our students happy and healthy will improve their academic performance and quality of life.