“Why are we learning thissssss?” I can still hear that long whine ringing in my ears or see a blank, uninterested stare as I introduced our lesson for the day. As adults, we all want to know the “why?” Innate in all of us is the drive for purpose (the “why”), wanting to know the relevance and meaning to what we are doing, or else it becomes another hoop to jump through, which leads to compliance, not true engagement and learning. Students are no different. Neither are their parents and caregivers.
Not only do students need to know the why behind what they are learning academically, but the why behind social and emotional learning (SEL). If we want to build a bridge between home and school, parents and caregivers need the why, what and how, too.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) helps us as educators engage the learner by encouraging us to always provide the “why” of learning. Learning must be relevant, goal-oriented, self-managed, and reflected on in order for the learner to engage. Yet, students encounter barriers to this every day. The UDL practitioner proactively removes those barriers by providing choices and options to not only to engage and learn, but to reflect, collaborate, build rapport with others, persist and manage their time and emotions all to support students to become expert learners.
According to CASEL, explicit SEL instruction requires “consistent opportunities for students to cultivate, practice, and reflect on social and emotional competencies in ways that are developmentally appropriate and culturally responsive.” But, before educators, students, and their caregivers can ever be successful in understanding SEL, they must know the why first, then the what and how.
As a former educator in the classroom and now one who supports teachers to strategically educate and meet the needs of the whole child, I learned to weave in SEL throughout my lessons in our day; I definitely didn’t need “another thing to do”, nor do you. I had to be intentional not only sharing why SEL was relevant to them, how it supports their learning, but the how and what as well. Students bought in. It became part of our classroom culture. It became who we were.
Then, I would share with my students' caregivers the “why, what and how” of SEL and some simple options they could do at home to build the bridge between school and home.
Wondering how UDL and SEL intersect and how you can share the why as you infuse CASEL’S Core Competencies in your lessons throughout your day? Check out some ideas below. Try them and then share the ideas with your students’ parents and caregivers to build that bridge and create a partnership between school and home.
To begin on a positive note, using simple check-ins at the beginning and during the day, both at school and home will help a child cultivate self-awareness. Need some ideas to try and share with your students’ parents and caregivers? Try these:
- Pear Deck offers some great, ready-made SEL slide decks that can be used both in class or virtually.
- Hosting a daily Morning Meeting is a great way to weave SEL at the beginning of your day and build your community.
- Edutopia has some great ideas for parents and caregivers: Social and Emotional Learning: Strategies for Parents
Try it out: To help the child understand how this type of check-in helps them cultivate their SEL skills, you could share, “We do these emotional check-ins to help both you and I know how you are feeling and what you might need to get your brain ready to learn.” Send info about morning meetings home to parents and ask them to check in with their kiddos before sending them to school each day.
Although self-awareness is a vital first step, learning how to address and manage those emotions, behaviors and set goals is crucial to a student’s success academically, socially, and emotionally. In the UDL Guidelines, educators are asked in the Engagement Principle to help students stay focused, engaged, and motivated. Both checkpoints, Facilitating Personal Coping Skills and Strategies (checkpoint 9.2) and Developing Self Assessment and Reflection (checkpoint 9.3) ultimately develop learners’ “intrinsic abilities to regulate their own emotions and motivations.” The Action and Expression Principle supports students in Appropriate Goal Setting(checkpoint 6.1) and Support Planning and Strategy Development(checkpoint 6.2) helping them not only create a plan to accomplish a goal but once a goal is set, they must learn how self-manage, plan and select a strategy for reaching that goal.
Try it out: To help your students understand the why of self-management, you could say, “Now that you have set a goal based on our learning intention, let’s create some self-management goals to help you achieve it.” As you are helping your students set, achieve their goals, and reflect, share with their parents and caregivers what resources you are using and how they can utilize them in their home.
According to CASEL, social-awareness is: “The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, & contexts.” The UDL checkpoint, Foster collaboration and community (checkpoint 8.3) found in the Engagement principle helps educators cultivate social awareness in their students by providing opportunities to collaborate and learn from their peers. In order for students to collaborate, they must learn how to be active listeners, be flexible, and be able to value others' thoughts and perspectives.
Try it out: Prior to a collaborative discussion or project, you can remind students that, “As you discuss and collaborate with your peers, remember not everyone thinks the way you do or would approach the assignment the same way. When you are actively listening, collaborating and sharing different strategies, you are honing your social awareness SEL skills.” Encourage caregivers to be open-minded to when their kiddos have different opinions and how they communicate when there are differences to help build social awareness.
When we group students intentionally together to collaborate and learn together and from one another, it’s a great opportunity to practice and hone their relationship skills. Wondering how to do that? Scaffolds! Checkpoint 5.3 discusses how to Build Fluencies with Graduated Levels of Support for Practice and Performance. Supporting students with academic conversation starters from Dr. Kate Kinsella and SEL-Reflection-Prompts from CASEL will support students’ ability to cultivate their relationship skills.
Try it out: Share your reasoning to have students work together by saying something like, “You will be working in a collaborative group and discussing your learning so you can practice and foster your relationship skills.” Let caregivers know when kiddos have worked in groups, how they did, and encourage them to talk about what went well with their students and what their students would like to work on when working in groups in the future. Encourage them to set norms for how kiddos communicate with parents and caregivers at home to help build their relationship skills outside of the classroom.
Helping students to become expert learners means we need to loosen the control reigns and put them in charge of their own learning by offering options, which requires them to own and make responsible decisions for themselves. They learn about themselves, the process of decision making, and the outcomes, which can have both a positive and negative effect on others and themselves. Yet, responsible decision-making doesn’t just happen, it’s a thought process that needs to be taught. Having students set goals, reflect on their emotional state and learning, learn how to effectively work with others and co-create the norms and expectations for their classroom, as well as their home when appropriate, will help them learn how to make responsible decisions.
Try it out: Here’s a great way to remind students how responsible decision-making ties into their social and emotional learning skill set. You can share, “When we discuss our norms and expectations for collaborative work, playground rules, how we respectfully treat and listen to one another, we are using our responsible decision-making thought process. This will help us think about how our choices affect not only us, but those around us.” Encourage caregivers to work with their kiddos to create house rules that show responsible decision-making, like "work on homework for at least 30 minutes before watching a movie."
Building the bridge between school and home by linking arms with your students' parents and caretakers is key to your students’ successes. Involving them in the why, how and what of SEL, bringing up to speed on what you are doing to support their child and then sharing strategies that they can do at home will build that bridge. I think it’s needed now, more than ever.