Considering the benefits to children and families, there is tremendous upside for parents to learn about Social-Emotional Learning and advocate for it at their schools and learn to practice it at home. Alas, few parents even know such programs and practices exist.
We want to change that, including by recruiting parents and parent organizations to the Alliance and allying them with other parents, and by providing some tools and resources for advocating for SEL in your local schools, as well as in all California schools. Below is guidance for how to do so.
To the degree possible we also want to provide resources for practicing SEL at home so that children can have an immersive experience and not a contradictory one going from an SEL-prioritizing school to home.
As just some example of what you can do at home to model social-emotional skills for your child, here are recommendations from the National Staff Development Council.*
- Focus on your child’s strengths first before being constructively critical.
- Follow up with consequences for misbehavior.
- Ask children how they feel and be understanding of those feelings first before making suggestions.
- Practice ways to stay calm when angry (like counting to ten, thinking of other things, finding the positive when it seems none exists).
- Avoid shaming your child.
- Be willing to apologize.
- Give children choices where appropriate and respect their wishes if it really doesn’t matter (gain authority by being firm on important matters).
- Ask questions that help children solve problems on their own.
- Read books and stories together.
- Encourage sharing and helping.
These may seem like just words. They are actually action steps to improve your child’s life, as well as your own, based on scientifically-proven studies.
If you consciously do these things, they will help your children cope more easily, become more resilient, be happier and do better in school and life.
HOW TO INTRODUCE SEL IN YOUR SCHOOL(S) – A TOOLKIT
By Angela Benedetto, Ph.D (Reprinted Courtesy of BigEQ.org.)
Hello Parent: Do you know if your school district is offering Social and Emotional Learning Programs to students and staff?
If you have children in school, you’re going to want to read this, because taking action can be extremely empowering and beneficial to your children.
Helping your school or school district incorporate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into the curriculum and school culture may be providing your child – and all other children – one of the most important skills sets they will learn in their lifetime.
SEL is about helping students become more responsive to their life experiences, more self- aware, and better able to meet life’s challenges when they come up. This means they can make better choices for their lives, manage their feelings, communicate and relate better, and handle stress in positive ways.
Research also shows that when students are more in touch with their feelings and needs and learn how to communicate these needs in a positive way, they actually perform better on tests and go on to live more fulfilling and successful lives.
Any parent would want this for their child. By helping making it happen for all children at your child’s school, you also create a culture of kids you’d want your own child to experience vs. a school rattled by poor learning and behavioral challenges that might include violence and drug usage.
If you google “social and emotional learning,” you will find more than 52 million links that are some way associated with SEL. Even so, estimates are that at 90% of parents and a minimum of 95% of the general public does not know what the term “social and emotional learning” means.
Despite this, the number of links clearly indicates a growing body of information among education professionals and businesses about – and understanding of – the role that SEL can play in schools.
Most administrators and educators already have a deep understanding that school climate plays a vital role in the quality of learning that is achievable. Online you can read in depth about concrete solutions for implementing district-wide SEL initiatives, along with the body of research findings about their effectiveness. Here we will sum up some core steps for you.
1) Most parents are aware of the classroom learning and any special school programs in which their children participate. Social-Emotional Learning instructions rarely are called such and often go by a variety of other names.
If your children never mention any learning that sounds as if it could be along the lines of emotional management and awareness training, or relationship and empathetic communication skills, then it’s likely such programs do not exist in the school and you would be wise to go advocate for them.
What’s more, if you are not happy, nor is your child, with the overall experience and culture of the school, with your child not coming home positive and strong in herself or himself and eager to learn, then it is likely that the school either lacks an SEL environment or has a very weak one, in which case you definitely would be well-served to step in as an advocate for SEL.
2) On the other hand, since many schools have sporadic trainings such as inserted anti-bullying programs, it’s also wise to find out exactly what these programs are and what they do.
Ultimately, the highest goal is to advocate for SEL training that’s fully implemented in-curriculum and the school culture, inside all classes and in activities outside the school room. This has several components and is most effective when they include specialized training of teachers and staff, as well as daily and persistent immersion of the students in a schoolwide SEL culture that allows them to practice the skills they are learning.
3) Ask your child’s teacher and or guidance counselors if they are teaching and using SEL skills in their classrooms, or if there are specialty classes taught by a consultant. Ask also if there are any district-wide training programs available.
You can also Inform yourself by checking your school district’s website to see if they offer district-wide SEL, and exactly what type of programs they are and how fully SEL practice is integrated throughout school activities.
Programs may be listed under the subtitles such as district wide initiatives or safe schools initiatives. Some may list mindfulness training or character building training.
If a program has a name, you can always check its features with a search online.
4) If there are operative SEL programs, get the name of the programs and familiarize yourself with them online. Ask teachers if there is any literature or ways you can learn more about a specific program the school deploys. Ask the guidance counselors for any school reports on the effectiveness of the deployed program(s). Ask also if there are “at-home” adjuncts to the programs used so you can reinforce the learning at home.
5) In scoping the SEL landscape in your school or district, keep in mind that just because a district lists programs, it doesn’t guarantee those programs are deployed in all district schools, or employed in an immersive manner. Many central districts approve specific programs but leave it to the discretion – and budget – of school principals to implement or ignore.
Step 2 – Advocating
1) Most likely you will find that your school or district has no truly operable SEL instruction and practice for the entire student body. You can then choose to become an advocate for comprehensive SEL.
Possible next action for you: Check the district and school websites to see what parent-teacher associations (PTAs) or other parent groups are available, and then attend meetings. Better yet, join any association available.
There’s more power in numbers, and it will feel good meeting other parents and any school officials who are interested in student emotional and social well-being or may become so if you come prepared to share what you know. PTAs tend to have real influence once the parents unite around an issue.
Your goal would be to be the advocate for SEL embedded through the school curriculum and culture. A great way to start is to ask everyone to watch any number of videos they want to at this YouTube page.
2) Talk about SEL with other parents when you’re at your children’s events. Strengthening social and emotional skills is an important part of gaining emotional intelligence and can just as easily show up at a school basketball game, cheer-leading competition, or robotics club where you can reference it.
Make it your goal wherever you meet parents to recruit allies. Invite people to your home for a group meeting about SEL or create lunch or coffee meetings that allow for discussion and building allied actions. Start by watching some videos together.
Also click here to join this Alliance (no fees) and to find other parents to ally with and other guides, and to keep up with SEL news and opportunities.
3) To prepare yourself even better for discussing SEL at these meetings or with teachers and school officials, you might want to become more knowledgeable on a general level by reading what you find from online searches or on the related sections of the BigEQ.org website.
If you google “social and emotional learning” you will find tons of materials that have escaped the general public.
You might also check the local paper, school newsletters, and do a web search for local events focusing on education issues that you can attend and either learn more about SEL (at some) or share what you have already learned. Colleges often have free lectures available to the public and post new information on their websites.
4) Meet with either one teacher or a few. Most teachers may be aware of SEL and their major resistance is likely to be their already overloaded work lives in a time of educational turmoil.
The core case to present to teachers is the potential for much better behaved and faster learning students, with discipline problems minimized, and a much healthier school culture that ultimately diminishes their workload.
Present evidence to them from other teachers who work in SEL schools (gathered from the web) about how teachers attitudes and moods elevated along with those of the SEL-trained students in those schools, and academics improved, often dramatically.
You can read more about what teachers need on the For Teachers tab on this website.
5) Check you school’s website for their board of education schedule, and attend a meeting, ideally with as many allies as possible. Most districts have a time slotted for community members to make comments or ask questions. Be sure to sign in so your name is on the evening’s agenda.
6) Ideally in groups, and alone if necessary, seek out principals, board members and district officials and ask them to create a plan for rapid implementation of SEL programs fully into the curriculum.
By focusing on an action step they can take rather than a critique that makes them wrong, you are more likely to encounter open-mindedness than defensive positions. Many school officials know about SEL, many but not all teachers do, and often many board members do not know about the array of programs and practices available or their effectiveness.
So be prepared with a list of videos the “not knowers” can watch or website they can visit. (Also see our Guide for Administrators and share the link with your administrators or board members. )
7) You will definitely encounter resistance and “reasons” why SEL can’t be fully implemented in your school.
Basic “reasons” are: We really don’t know much about these programs and they are not all proven. We don’t have the money. We’re too busy and beside it means retraining the teachers. There are so many out there and we don’t have the staff to vet them.
Also, we’d love to do it but the board or legislature won’t support it. We don’t have the resources to implement it properly even if we had the money for the books, videos, games, etc. And it’s a big deal because we need different programs for different grades.
Also, we can’t so disrupt the kids when they are already overloaded with studying and learning to tests so we can meet our federal and state goals. Etc.
To which the simple answer is: “That is not acceptable. SEL saves money in the long run, particularly on remedial efforts, and it is your administrator (or board member) job to plan creatively how this might happen and we will then join you in going to our legislators for the funding.
“Together, let’s plan how to make this happen. Please call a school-wide meeting with staff and parents as a first step in planning to implement them. (Or please call a special board meeting to hear from proponents of these programs.)”
8) Be persistent. Don’t take no for an answer. Set up tag teams among your allies among the parents. Take separate smaller meetings with administrators and district board members, and make an effort to enlist teachers in the cause.
9) Announce any coordinated efforts to local media outlets so they begin to inform the community about the efforts, requiring the media therefore to look deeper into the effectiveness of SEL in other communities.
Most local media outlets are clueless about them, as are even most major media outlets.
10) If so inclined, keep a diary of your efforts and responses you receive. It could provide useful in a long battle and also with the media.
11) Click here or below to on this website, which is a way to show your support to others and endorse the Alliance, and please encourage numerous others to do so. And VERY important, share your experiences on our coming Share section, where you can also learn from others.
12) Finally, be a bit of a squeaky wheel as time permits. The human tendency is to resist change. So keep knocking gently and leave reminder messages when you have a moment to spare.
Keep in mind that most of the people with whom you will be dealing have not gone through SEL instruction so don’t have the capacity to adopt easily and positively to even helpful change. So stay upbeat and persistent.