3 Practical Resources to Help Teachers Integrate SEL and Academics

Professional Development

3 Practical Resources to Help Teachers Integrate SEL and Academics

By Kelly Stuart     Jun 25, 2018

3 Practical Resources to Help Teachers Integrate SEL and Academics

This article is part of the guide: Social-Emotional Learning: Why It Matters and How to Foster It.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was with two of my friends who coach teachers at a San Francisco Bay Area school district. They told me that while there is a lot of talk about social-emotional learning (SEL), the guidance educators receive about integrating SEL into academics is more theoretical than practical.

In the past year, the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (SEAD) has produced timely and helpful briefs focused on integrating social-emotional learning into academics, aligning professional development with curriculum, and a practice base for how humans learn. While there is growing momentum and interest among educators to learn more about SEL, my friends are right that few resources have been developed to help teachers adopt these practices and integrate SEL into their everyday academic instruction.

In a recent survey conducted by Holly Yettick, Director of EPE Research Center, district leaders reported that one of their biggest questions about SEL focused on the types of professional development teachers would need for its implementation. In order to scale the integration of SEL into academics, teachers are going to need support rooted in classroom practice.

In our work at Center for the Collaborative Classroom, we support teachers in their professional learning and develop lessons so they can seamlessly integrate SEL and literacy every day. Educators new to planning lessons with integration might be curious about which social skills can best be taught and practiced. Examples of social development skills that can be explicitly taught, practiced, and reflected upon include the following:

  • Take turns listening and speaking
  • Participate in partner work and class discussions
  • Build on one another’s thinking
  • Contribute ideas that are different from others
  • Share partners’ thinking with the class
  • Take responsibility for learning and behavior
  • Reflect on one’s own behavior

We have found that academic learning is strengthened when we create experiences that build on the fact that children are naturally curious, and need ample opportunities to be active, collaborative, and reflective in their learning process. We see integration as necessary for deep learning to occur. Here are three resources to support that integration:

1. Planning Lessons with Integration in Mind

“The Lesson Planning Handbook” by Peter Brunn focuses on developing lessons that integrate SEL. This book serves as a great resource for any teacher looking to shift their pedagogy as they can adopt Brunn’s process:

  • Establish the lesson’s purpose—considering the academic and social focus of the lesson.
  • Create a plan for introducing the lesson—considering how to prepare students to work together and what background they will need to access the lesson.
  • Make decisions regarding how to facilitate the lesson—noting where students will benefit from working together, where they might struggle, and what facilitation techniques the teacher might use.
  • Decide how students will share and reflect on their work—generating questions about what they learned and/or how they worked together.
  • Review and revise the teaching plan—based on where the students struggled and where the teacher spent the most teaching time.
I have talked a great deal about the need to be intentional—about our academic objectives as well as our social ones. These intentional steps make the difference between lessons that shine with the brilliance of student thinking and ones that are void of imagination. It is our choice. We do make the difference!
—Peter Brunn

By using Brunn’s guide for lesson planning, teachers can develop their own approach to integrating SEL into academic instruction.

2. Seeing Classrooms in Action

When digging into this type of lesson planning process, teachers also benefit from seeing classroom examples. The following video shows a first-grade teacher who has planned for both the social and academic goals in her writing lesson. As you watch this lesson, what do you notice about the social skills students use to deepen their learning?

Source: Center for the Collaborative Classroom

When students experience lessons shown like the one in this video, we find gains in students’ sense of community and improved academic outcomes. We hear from teachers throughout the year how this approach to lesson structure and consistent teaching techniques has improved their teaching.

I have seen so much growth in the communication skills of my students. The turn and talks have taught students how to look at the speaker and to use discussion stems to build onto one another’s thinking and to disagree respectfully.
—Second grade teacher, Spokane WA

Social-emotional skills support student achievement, but embedding SEL into the school day can be complex.

Social-emotional skills support student achievement, but embedding SEL into the school day can be complex.

If you’re launching a new SEL program or enhancing an existing one, these tips will help you avoid common implementation mistakes.

Read more from Newsela.

3. Time to Debrief with Other Teachers

In addition to professional reading and seeing lessons in action, teachers need time to plan together, observe one another’s classrooms, and reflect together when adopting new practices. Protocols and processes help support teachers in this journey. One of my favorite resources, Consultancy Protocol, helps define challenges, gain expertise from colleagues, and allows time for reflection. It can also be useful when pursuing new teaching practices.

Dan Brown, a National Board Certified Teacher and author of “The Great Expectations School,” recently wrote about his optimism for SEL taking hold in classrooms. I share his optimism, but also recognize that teachers need support through high quality teaching materials and professional learning experiences.

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