How to Practice SEL in this New School Year!
Meg Smith, MSW, LICSW, ACSW
Workforce Development Coordinator, Center for Trauma Care in Schools
Back to School season has already begun across the country, with some schools starting as early as July. As we enter this new school year, it's important to address the pandemic-induced effects of social isolation, loss, grief, and childhood traumatic stress on academic progress and social-emotional development, as highlighted by reports from the US Surgeon General and the National Assessment on Educational Progress.
These reports have shown that the impact of COVID-19 on both academic achievement and mental health has had the most significant negative impact on the most vulnerable and high-need young people, including youth with disabilities, youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, youth from low socio-economic status backgrounds, youth from immigrant households, and homeless youth.
Tackling these academic and mental health challenges requires a focus on creating safe and supportive school climates that foster positive outcomes including increased school engagement, connectedness, positive youth development, and student supports at all tiers of a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). Teaching social-emotional skills, often using a district's comprehensive social emotional learning (SEL) curricula, can be an effective way to address social-emotional skill deficits including those exacerbated by the pandemic. However, implementing comprehensive SEL curricula can be a heavy lift for teachers who may lack adequate training and support. This often results in varying levels of implementation consistency and fidelity.
One creative approach to addressing SEL is the work of Professor Stephanie Jones and her team at the Ecological Approaches to Social Emotional Learning (EASEL) Lab at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Dr. Jones conducted research to identify cost-effective ways to teach social-emotional skills in small, routine, and structured activities. One outcome of that work is SEL Kernels, a set of activities and routines designed to support children's social, emotional, and academic development. SEL Kernels are easy to use and adaptable to different age groups, settings, and student needs.
One of the key advantages of SEL Kernels is their efficiency; they can be implemented in just 15 minutes per day. Moreover, students find them enjoyable, and they align with teacher practices and daily routines, enabling all students to practice targeted SEL skills throughout the day. This approach ensures that SEL becomes an integral part of the students' daily experiences in the classroom rather than in formal 45-minute weekly blocks. SEL Kernels make social-emotional learning more accessible and impactful for all students, particularly those who have been disproportionately affected by the challenges brought on by the pandemic. SEL Kernels can be one creative approach to helping schools create a supportive and nurturing learning environment for all students that fosters their overall well-being and academic success.