The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as “The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
Within the context of schools, SEL can be easily understood as the study of soft skills. SEL is where students learn how to treat others and how to treat themselves in a responsible, caring, and compassionate way.
Why do Social Workers Work as SEL Coordinators?
Oftentimes, schools rely heavily on teachers to provide SEL instruction and planning. While many teachers deeply value SEL learning, sometimes the pressure for students to perform well academically leads teachers to prioritize content lessons over life skills. When schools hire a specific person to coordinate and teach SEL, it sets aside time specifically for SEL and creates accountability for SEL practices within the school. Social workers are the right person for this job for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, social workers are highly qualified to teach the content. The core values of social work align perfectly with the learning goals of SEL. The social work profession is grounded in the values of social justice, the importance of human relationships, competence, integrity, service, and the dignity and worth of the person.
These values are aligned with the five competencies of social and emotional learning: self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and self-management. For instance, social workers value relationships and learn explicitly in school how to develop authentic relationships with clients. Therefore, social workers are equipped to break down and model what it looks like to have relationship skills. Further, CASEL teaches that effective SEL programming is SAFE: sequenced, active, focused, and explicit.
Social workers have training in explicitly teaching social skills through explicit and focused role-plays. This skill can be easily modified and applied to the whole-class setting, seamlessly integrating social work therapeutic techniques with direct instruction. Additionally, social workers know how to respond in the moment. Due to the reflective and process-oriented nature of SEL lessons, students may sometimes disclose personal information, such as experiencing abuse, death in the family, thoughts of suicide, bullying, and more.
Not only do school social workers know the correct protocols for handling high-risk situations, such as suicide ideation or abuse, but social workers can provide therapeutic services in the school or refer students to effective mental health providers in the community. Social workers have training in both responding in the moment with empathy and also caring for themselves as practitioners later through explicit self-care to prevent burn-out. Teachers may not always feel comfortable and prepared to respond to difficult disclosures such as these.
Benefits to the Mental Health Staff
The social worker providing direct SEL instruction builds a reciprocal nature, benefiting all mental health staff at the school. With effective SEL services, the number of students needing more intensive services may decrease as students learn adaptive coping skills, healthy relationships, and effective conflict resolution within the classroom setting. When students are equipped with these proactive skills for addressing common problems which emerge in school, maladaptive responses that require the assistance of mental health professionals become less common.
Further, students who do need additional social work services benefit from a renewed sense of anonymity and decreased shame. When all students in the school are accustomed to interacting weekly with the school social worker, it becomes less obvious which students are receiving intensive services. Young students do not assume when a social worker walks into a classroom they are there for one specific student and therefore, privacy is restored.
Additionally, by offering ways for all students to see the social worker through self-referrals and lunch bunch services, almost all students trickle in and out of the social work office at one point or another. With this volume of foot traffic, students are much less likely to be concerned a peer may notice them coming or going from the office. Talking to the social worker about problems and issues becomes the norm, effectively alleviating mental health stigmas which often permeate through schools and the larger community.
Lastly, when the social worker takes such an active role in the classroom setting, they are better equipped to effectively respond to students with high needs when crises happen. Oftentimes in large school settings, student to social worker ratios can be extremely high. This presents challenges to building authentic relationships with all students at the school as social workers may be meeting students for the first time during a crisis. When the social worker provides direct SEL instruction, it is almost guaranteed the student and social worker have interacted positively during class previous to the incident. A level of trust is built faster and with more authenticity during the most difficult situations.
How the SEL Coordinator Position Works
Social workers are ideal providers of SEL instruction and support in schools. The social work mission requires practitioners to enhance well-being and empower those who are most vulnerable (NASW, 2008). By supporting students with SEL development in school, social workers equip students with valuable life skills that not only enhance their well-being, but may in the long-term serve as a protective factor for many inequitable outcomes.
Presently, I work in partnership with our school counselor in a school of approximately 600 students pre-kindergarten through fifth grade to provide wellness services. Our school counselor provides tier two and three services while I primarily provide tier one and two. This arrangement allows me to be available for predictable and scheduled classes in a way school social workers are typically not, as I am not pulled out for crisis response. I provide SEL lessons through direct instruction in all 19 of our elementary homerooms bi-weekly.
On the weeks I do not provide direct instruction, I prepare lesson plans and materials for homeroom teachers to implement the lessons on their own. To support the SEL curriculum, I also provide ongoing training to staff and family roundtables for parents/guardians. Additionally, I provide social skills and therapeutic services for students through individual and group services outside of regularly scheduled lessons.
All students are given the opportunity to meet with me through lunch bunches, where students sign up to eat lunch in my office. Through self-referral services, students request to discuss mental health-related concerns with a member of the wellness team. Overall, my week is split halfway between direct instruction in the classroom and more typical school social work services.
When I enter the school building, I hear echoes of “Good morning Ms. Knipp!” as I make my way to my office. One elementary student holds up two fingers when he sees me, to indicate he has put two drops in classmate’s buckets (our way of measuring kind acts) so far this week. When I arrive at my office and open my calendar, I see today I have four lessons, a lunch session, two therapeutic groups, and a parent learning event after school.
I have the best job in the world. I am a social worker, but my official job title is “Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator.” My main responsibility is proactive, preventive work through direct instruction of social and emotional learning.
Empowering students with tools for SEL development at a young age promotes social justice in the long run. Social workers have the training and values necessary to implement these lessons in schools now. SEL instruction implemented by social workers not only improves the school, but it also improves social work practices within educational environments.
Enhancing Education with Digital Tools in the Classroom
Especially now, with the rise of technology in the classroom, teachers have practically unlimited methods for teaching, assigning, and grading student work. Features within forums such as Google Classroom, Flocabulary, Read180 Universal, PowToon, NewsELA, etc., allow for student choice, engagement, and differentiation. While the options and methods are seemingly unlimited, there are a few things to consider when it comes to utilizing classroom technology effectively.
To ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for students and parents, educators will want to address the following concerns before planning and implementing:
Is the technology adding to the student’s understanding of the material, or is it simply technology for technology’s sake?
If teachers cannot readily identify how the digital tool is adding a layer of complexity, relevance, choice, or differentiation, then the tool may be better utilized for another task. What we do not want is for the learning to be secondary to the digital forum. For example, if students are using PowToon or Prezi for an assignment, then the objective should be something related to summarizing, paraphrasing, simulating cause and effect, etc., since those are skills that the digital tools support. Those two particular digital tools are more geared towards public speaking or presenting, so an objective for speaking and listening should be a component, as well.
How much scaffolding or frontloading will the technology involve?
As teachers, we know that time is limited, as we are constantly moving students from one skill to the next. A worst-case scenario would be for the digital tool to become a “time-suck” in the unit. More than anything, the technology should be comprehensive and user-friendly, so that it does not become an obstacle for students to demonstrate mastery.
How much of the student’s grade will be determined by the proper use of the technology?
Again, if the objective is for students to relay research that they have gathered in a focused and organized way, then the technology feature is simply a small aspect of that task. Consequently, if the objective is for students to construct a timeline of a story and present the animation, then the technology becomes more of a vital component.
Can the use of the digital tool be optional?
Another recommendation when considering student choice is to provide the option to not use the technology to demonstrate mastery. For some students, technology can be scary because of their unfamiliarity with it. For others, computer or internet access at home may not be a possibility. Teachers should be wary of only using digital creations or submissions, as this would mean that some students can only work on an assignment or project in the classroom—not at home.
Are my digital posts, grades, and assignments easy to access and displayed clearly?
When using a digital classroom like Google Classroom, teachers should be sure to make their digital forum as accessible and transparent as possible. At open house or parent conferences, teachers should consider inviting parents to sign up to the virtual classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into and monitoring the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted.
This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. Guardian access also allows teachers to post entire lessons, documents, and reading to the classroom. This type of transparency provides parents with a peek inside the day’s activities and lessons. With documents posted, there will also be a backup option for parents if their child has lost or forgotten the paper copy.
New Year’s Resolutions for Students
It’s that time of year again — the new year when many of us set impossible goals or make empty promises to ourselves about “bettering” something in our lives. Do you know there’s a better way to set achievable goals?
When I instruct my students about reflecting and goal setting, I use the popular SMART goals method, an acronym which helps direct us to make goals that are, well, smart. The same directives we use in the classroom to set SMART goals can be easily applied to students’ papers about New Year’s resolutions, a short writing task I give my students on the first day back from winter break. I, too, will use the SMART goals method to set and reach my own personal New Year’s resolutions this year. But how, exactly, can we weave SMART goals into resolutions for students?
Let’s take a look!
The acronym varies slightly among teachers and educational resources, but the basic expectations of SMART goals are seen below:
Specific (simple, straightforward)
Measurable (meaningful, monitored)
Achievable (attainable, agreed upon)
Relevant (reasonable/realistic, results-oriented)
Timely (trackable, tangible)
Specific, Simple, Straightforward
Much like setting SMART goals, students’ New Year’s resolutions should be specific or straightforward, meaning “Do better in school” would not make the cut. We must prompt students to specify exactly what they hope to change or achieve. Ask questions like, “In which class or classes do you want to see improvement?” “What grade do you consider to be ‘better’?”
Measurable, Meaningful, Monitored
A measurable or monitored resolution should be quantifiable; it must involve progress which can be tracked. Ask students how they plan to track or measure the progress, and how often they should check-in, evaluate, or adjust based on the measured progress. For instance, if a resolution is to improve their timed mile run by dropping 30 seconds, encourage them to keep time logs, workout schedules, and other exact measures of their progress.
Achievable, Attainable, Agreed Upon
An achievable resolution is one within the realm of reality — and students need to be aware of this fact. Resolutions must be attainable and realistic. While we teachers should not dash dreams or cut anyone short of their highest potential, we also need to help students realize what is and is not achievable in the manner or timeline they have allotted. If a student’s resolution or goal is to win the state’s 1st place mile, but they have never run any sort of distance race, their aim is set much too high. This is not to say they cannot one day reach that level, but this resolution should detail smaller steps in an effort to reach that point in the future.
Depending on a student’s age, the achievable factor should be agreed upon, meaning a parent or other adult figure is “in” on the accountability of the resolution. Relevant resolutions should be goals that matter on a larger scale. If a student wants to focus on family time, a resolution might be to keep the cell phone off and away during meals, gatherings, and other family activities. This goal is certainly achievable; there are no outside factors which could disrupt the goal. The student simply has to be mindful of his or her presence during family time. It is relevant because the cell phone is a likely distractor during conversations and meals.
Timely, Trackable, Tangible
Finally, a timely resolution is one that has a definitive starting point and incremental check-ins. When writing a New Year’s resolution, students should ask themselves, “What can I do today to work towards this? What can I do two weeks from now? Two months from now? What would this resolution look like in 6 months?” Working towards the resolution or goal should start right away — as we all know, procrastination is a surefire way to derail our progress.
Family Team Time
It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.
Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grind — with family team time.
What is Family Team Time?
Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities — as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly change students’ lives — but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes — all these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter
Museums & More
Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang — not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs.
Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so children can follow along while listening to the book aloud.
Physical Activity Fun
Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste-tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud!
Volunteer as a Family
As opposed to hustling from a game, to a recital, to a playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day — what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?
This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.
How to Provide the Full-Service Community-Supported Public Schools We Need
All students have potential, but access to support and opportunity is not equally distributed. As a high school principal for 10 years, I encountered well-intentioned teachers and students racing toward adulthood with an endless variety of needs: students struggling with poverty; transience; family changes; immigration; addiction; the negative effects of trauma; and emotional, physical, and social health.
In most cases, these challenges directly affect a student’s ability to thrive in the classroom, and schools struggle because there is no prescribed or easy solution. The response to the academic struggles of our students has traditionally included longer days and school years, improved instructional strategies, targeted remediation, and focused test preparation. But schools have rarely attempted to combat the non-academic root causes which are negatively affecting the achievement of our students.
Simply put, not enough is being done to address the lack of equity experienced by students and their families. So we must ask ourselves a few questions: How can I ensure my students have the access and opportunity to fully realize their potential? How do we help each student understand his or her personal aptitudes and assets? How do we instill within a student a sense of optimism and a sense of purpose?
A Comprehensive School Offering Wraparound Support
To really help students succeed, schools need to implement a holistic approach by supplementing our extensive instructional efforts and becoming “full service” schools. With embedded essential community services such as basic needs provision, mental and physical health services, hard and soft skill development, and workforce exploration, students have their best chance at a successful start following graduation.
A comprehensive wraparound school is a place of hope, connection, and opportunity — a school that’s actively striving to make equity and future success attainable for its students. This means monitoring student setbacks and successes, providing academic and behavioral interventions in a timely manner, connecting students and families with support services, and offering high-quality aptitude-based career and college transition counseling.
“Whole child” schooling, paired with collaborative community partnerships, is a cornerstone in the common-sense revisioning of public education and a powerful solution we need now. Here are some tips to improve a school’s ability to provide comprehensive, wraparound community services and partnerships to ensure all students have the support they need and an equitable opportunity for success:
1. Evaluate Students’ Needs
A comprehensive full-service school is designed to meet the needs of its students by working with local individuals, agencies, and businesses to strengthen the community. First, schools must identify needs and establish priorities. Schools uncover specific barriers and concerns students are facing by speaking in depth with students, parents, and community members. High-quality needs assessments provide data that schools and communities use to prioritize the most pressing needs and opportunities for support and partnership.
2. Give Students Hope, Purpose, and Relevance
For struggling students, some of the most powerful interventions regarding post-high school planning lie in the realm of social and emotional learning — the development of a student’s self-discovery and aspiration leading to optimism, self-worth, and purpose. Aptitude-based assessments are capable of helping educators and parents learn much more about our teens than what is typically gleaned through traditional academic testing.
While I was a principal at Marietta High School, we partnered as a pilot school with YouScience, an aptitude assessment tool. YouScience uncovers students’ natural talents and matches them to careers in which their abilities add value to the workforce. Too often, we point students in directions or make course recommendations for them based on what we have available for scheduling, what we can gather from their academic test results, and our own personal hunches about what they might be good at or interested in. Typically, educators have little information which is relevant to whether the direction recommended is the best fit for the individual student. YouScience equips schools to engage in individualized goal-setting with students and parents through a process that is informative and inspires hope.
3. Compile Resources
With students’ needs in mind, schools must search the community to identify local resources, partners, service providers, and funding sources. Consider looking beyond the local community for resources if need be, and then connect students and families with the available services. Some schools might want to start small, with partnerships providing care closets, apprenticeships, job placement assistance, mediation services, or wellness coaching, and then gradually grow the number of services offered over time. Other schools might have the resources to introduce multiple community partners to work with students and their families on a regular basis. The important thing is that students are connected with community resources providing the support they need.
4. Commit to the Long Term
It’s important to remember that developing a school which provides comprehensive support is a process that takes intentionality, time, and patience. School districts must commit to discovery, innovation, and collaboration, and they must focus on a long-term goal of community improvement. It’s deep work that’s dependent upon trust and building relationships with students and community members. Start small and commit to the long haul.
Schools are microcosms of their communities. The time and energy invested in this process will benefit not only students and their families but also the community as a whole. Creating a “one-stop shop” of support and coordination of essential community services is the best way to address the most significant barriers our students face today, as well as set them up for success for years to come.
Procrastination: Why We Do It and How to Combat It
Consistently, procrastination creates a snowball effect, in which anxiety or stress further compounds the need for the task avoidance. In basic terms, the more a student puts off a task or assignment, the greater the stress of the impending due date or need for completion. We all know this and can relate to that instinct — we then put it off even further because it has become such a monster, we must avoid it or ignore it at all costs.
The other issue surrounding procrastination is we often procrastinate with the tasks or responsibilities which matter most or have the highest stakes. Whether we do this out of fear, denial, indifference, or laziness, the end result is typically the same: we experience a sort of self-destruction by missing an important deadline, or we cave in and begrudgingly and reluctantly complete the task in hurry. Either outcome is less than ideal, especially when grades are involved. Because of procrastination, students dig themselves into a hole, lose motivation, and therefore put forth even less effort with their school work.
Awareness is key to combating the instinct to put off undesirable tasks. Once students realize how they procrastinate, they can begin to alter those behaviors. For example, a student completing research for a paper will find ways to distract himself from the assignment while working. They may check social media, text friends, pause to watch a show, listen to music, or simply scroll through random websites — anything becomes more enticing than the actual research.
- Encourage students to limit distractions by keeping the phone off–limits during work sessions.
- Complete work in an area away from television, music, friends, and other distractions.
- Set a timer for 20-30 minutes of solid, uninterrupted work time. Then allow yourself to take a 3-5 minute break, but then get right back to work.
- Keep light snacks and water at hand while working to stave off hunger and the unnecessary urge to graze to avoid the assignment.
- Construct a checklist for a multi-step task and prioritize the tasks in order of difficulty. As students work, they should monitor the checklist and stick to the order of steps as necessary. Again, the urge to complete the easiest or most interesting steps is another procrastination tactic — instead, encourage students to tackle the challenging steps first. This will boost motivation and confidence while working.
- Organize to-do lists with tasks requiring the most time or focus at the top. These are typically the first things that students will avoid completing.
- Ask students to write down three things they have accomplished at the end of a work session. The successes, no matter how small, show students a strong work ethic and focus does help them to chip away at a daunting task they may have vehemently avoided in the past.
Procrastination is an all too familiar practice for many of us. While certain people are more likely to put off all tasks until later, we have all experienced the desire to push off occasional duties, errands, chores, or responsibilities. For students, no matter their age or academic aptitude, procrastinating can become an alluring yet problematic habit. Pushing off tasks can become a major pitfall for several different reasons, but there are methods to combat this bad habit — and they begin with awareness.
Four Ways Neurodiversity Holds the Key to the Future of Special Education
For ages, special education has been developing on its own, together with the development of ordinary education. It emphasizes disorders and the ways special education students are lacking compared to an average student. Those who have a noticeable dysfunction have even been mocked for their lack of focus or skill to learn something – sometimes by teachers too.
And even though the history of the special education has been filled with inappropriate names and terms, the future is bright. More and more scientists and educators are turning to the better ways of conducting special education – and one of those ways is related to neurodiversity.
This term was first used by journalist Harvey Blume in the early 1990s and means that autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other special-needs conditions are the part of normal variations in the human population. And here is how neurodiversity changes the entire special education system.
1. In theory.
Special education as it is at the moment regards disability categories as something originated from biology, genetics, and neurology. Neurodiversity, on the other hand, focuses on the advantages these disabilities have to offer – they use this to explain why these genes are still here today and why people are still born with disabilities.
This new concept examines how a person with a disability can be lacking in some aspects but even more advanced than regular people in some. During the past decade, university programs such as London School of Economics’ Dyslexia and Neurodiversity program, or the College of William & Mary’s Neurodiversity Initiative are aimed to support neurodiverse students and create positive acceptance and niches for them.
Annabel Gray, neurodiversity specialist and educator at Origin Writings states, “Regarding a person as completely disabled is fundamentally wrong. Whereas a person with, for example, autism can be lacking in some areas of life, on a job which requires focus and attention to detail, this same person would do outstandingly well.”
2. The focus.
The focus of special education so far has been solely on assessing deficits and how to go about educating students based on these deficits. However, neurodiversity relies more on assessing the strengths, talents, abilities, and interests of disabled students. It is a strength-based approach where an educator would use a series of tests to discover the student’s abilities and teach them how to use them to tackle their everyday and educational challenges.
What is so great about neurodiversity approach is it gives the students all the necessary tools to cope with their day to day life by focusing on what they do best. This way the students are not feeling left out and they know there are some things where they can thrive in.
Workarounds are another way the neurodiversity improves the disabled students’ lives. What it essentially means is the educators are supposed to find ways for students to experience and learn which does not include their disabilities. For example, students with ADHD could be allowed to use special tools like stability balls or standing desks in order to focus on studying.
This could be expanded to create an individual education plan for each student based on what they need and in which environment they thrive the most. Placing those students in the traditional learning environment will help them to feel “lesser human being” or a burden.
Lila Christie, an educator at 1Day2Write and WriteMyX confirms: “Workarounds are some of the best ways of teaching the disabled students. We implement this strategy of putting each student in an environment that will allow them to learn without anything in the way. It not only works but also gives students the satisfaction and comfort.”
4. How to communicate with students.
While most special education programs still teach children about their disabilities, neurodiversity teaches them about the value of variation and being different. It teaches them how their brain works and how the environment affects it, how to use their skills to the maximum etc. This kind of mindset can help them realize the growth mindset can improve their performance.
To get the brain to its full potential it is important to get the students exercising in various ways, each suited to their own abilities – writing exercises are excellent ways to improve brain power and it can be easily accessible to students through tools such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows Speech Recognition, etc.
Neurodiversity is a great new approach to special education. It gives students opportunities and new ways of understanding themselves. This is a fresh take on educating those with disabilities – in fact, it relies more on their abilities and strengths. It can give students confidence and tools to be successful and do more later in their lives.
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