At the end of every school day, behavior trackers inevitably found their way on my classroom floor, in the trash, or forgotten under the stacks of papers on my desk. My school was attempting to track how students communicated their feelings with classmates and teachers through individual social emotional goals to boost classroom culture and address student development. Goals were reviewed daily, but unfortunately progress was lost to the netherworld of misplaced student papers. Social emotional skills were seen as a separate, “ungraded” progress report, and students were not invested.
My classroom experience demonstrates the inefficiencies schools often experience in addressing social emotional learning (SEL). Without clear guidelines and a means to observe progress over time, we didn’t have an effective method of providing students with feedback. The developmental skills were typically separated from core content classes. Since our gradebooks were designed for academic skills, it was difficult to track and monitor SEL. There had to be a better way to instill positive communication and deeper learning that would hold beyond a 45-minute class.
I taught SEL skills effectively for the first time during my third year teaching by carving out academic instructional time. This investment paid off tenfold. I stepped over the advisory period barrier and disguised behavior trackers as components of my lesson plans. That year, I incorporated Accountable Talk, a method of classroom discourse encouraging positive communication, relationship-building, accountability, and rigorous content engagement among students. One component of Accountable Talk requires students to be self-aware and in tune with the emotions of those around them, interacting with others positively and productively, even when disagreeing. For my 6th graders, I anticipated this would prove challenging, but I was determined to establish the norm in my room that when we discussed math, we would do so by learning from each other and building these socio-emotional skills. I would later learn these skills were not only valuable to our classroom culture, but also in improving math skills overall.
At the time, I didn’t realize the competencies I was teaching were called “social emotional learning.” These skills exist in a group of national standards defined by CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning. I incorporated these skills by building in time to introduce conversation starters, sentence stems, how to respectfully agree or disagree with classmates, and how to build on each others’ ideas. I taught them how to be aware of their own opinions and feelings and how they would influence those around them. They observed their classmates model this behavior, they watched me model it, and they were given guidelines and suggestions for how to improve. Over time, with feedback and dynamic conversations, my students began to really enjoy the communication and would remind each other to speak respectfully and provide thoughtful feedback. The students required less prompting from me as it became a part of the class culture. Though I didn’t have a surefire way to monitor my class’s progress with Accountable Talk at the time, I saw this growth day after day.
One component that made this a success was teaching these skills in conjunction with our math skills. Whenever my students worked together on a project, discussing their strategies and approaches to the answer, they worked through both the math standards and the social expectations I’d put in place for Accountable Talk. In my lesson plans, I intentionally wove social emotional learning throughout the math problem by having students practice considering another student’s feelings in their group while explaining their approach to converting fractions. Accountable Talk prompted empathy in my class. This took time to cultivate, but the practice built stronger relationships, opened dialogue, and broadened understanding.
Today, these social awareness competencies can be tracked with technology, alleviating the lost paper tracker abyss and opening opportunities for sharing, viewing data, and making adjustments for improvement. Kiddom’s platform supports CASEL’s competencies, which would have aligned perfectly to track Accountable Talk in my class. I could have given them individual progress reports on how they were doing, an added report I didn’t have time to produce because I was overburdened writing lesson plans, making worksheets, grading assessments, the list goes on. Kiddom makes so much of this faster and actionable for teachers.
We owe parents the ability to track how their children are developing self-awareness and building relationships, in addition to science and social studies. Click on a button to download a standards-based progress report for parents that doesn’t look like a spreadsheet? Yes, please!
Actual photo of me saying, “Yes, please!”
Kiddom can help you align academic standards and social emotional learning standards together in one math project or ELA paper. Then, you can send feedback for both sets of skills. Social emotional learning should not be taught separately from content: it’s importance is amplified if it’s taught in tandemwith academics. When SEL is taught in a silo, it’s importance is undermined and inconsistently addressed. In reality, the skills necessary to be empathetic, relatable, and compassionate are the skills that drive student success in school and beyond.
If you’d like to learn more about teaching SEL in tandem with academics, grab SEL 101: our free guide to support your students’ social emotional development.