and a 2020 recipient of the MSLA President's Award.
Why Do Schools Need Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?
Struggling with a global pandemic, an economic recession, and racial injustices and disparities, today’s students and teachers face overwhelming fears and anxieties that negatively influence mental health and learning (CASEL, 2020; Cipriano, Rappolt-Schlichtmann, & Brackett, 2020; Shafer, 2020). Consequently, “the compounding traumas of this crisis call for schools to rethink what it means to educate the whole child and invest deeply in SEL” (Cipriano, Rappolt-Schlichtmann, & Brackett, 2020, p.6).
What is SEL?
According to the CASEL 5 Framework, SEL includes the following key areas of competence:
- SELF-AWARENESS: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts.
- SELF-MANAGEMENT: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations.
- SOCIAL AWARENESS: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.
- RELATIONSHIP SKILLS: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.
- RESPONSIBLE DECISION-MAKING: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. (CASEL, 2021)
Teaching SEL strategies offers an avenue for nurturing relationships and “resiliency” while aiding “overall health and well-being” in schools (Sharp, 2020). Furthermore, the research is clear: we all have a responsibility to foster SEL development in schools (Himmelstein, 2019; CASEL, 2021).
How does Burlington High School (BHS) Prioritize SEL?
The school’s Instructional Leadership Team and Mental Health Team at BHS have made SEL a priority through various avenues, including conducting a mental health needs assessment, offering counseling services, and providing teacher training. Monthly Google Meets and a Google Classroom offer SEL themed lesson plans, activities, and tools that teachers can integrate directly into their classrooms to bolster social and emotional competencies. Such professional development is crucial given that providing teachers with effective SEL supports impacts “the fidelity with which they implement SEL programs in the classroom” (Schonert-Reichl, 2017). As noted by BHS Social Worker Mrs. Christine Conceison, “These professional developments offer teachers an opportunity to practice and ask clarifying questions on the SEL lessons/activities offered.”
How Does the School Library Help Support SEL?
At BHS, forming a partnership with the mental health professionals in the building was a natural fit as our goals readily aligned. Supporting mental health in schools means, “prioritiz[ing] safe, supportive, culturally sustaining, and equitable learning environments that promote the social and emotional competencies of both students and adults” (CASEL, 2020). This goal echoes the mission of the BHS Library to provide a safe learning space that cultivates crucial 21st century skills.
In an effort to support district SEL initiatives, Mrs. Conceison, BHS Special Education Teacher Dr. Bonnie Nichols, and I worked collaboratively to apply for and secure a Burlington Education Foundation grant that would allow us to purchase materials for SEL Calming Kits. These kits will be available to teachers and students through the library to advance social and emotional competencies in our schools.
Using the library as the repository for the kits helps highlight SEL resources and mental health awareness for teachers and students. Dr. Nichols articulated that “having the kits available for teachers to checkout of the library creates a SEL resource for teachers to use and try out. This way, students will be able to access the activities and tools right in their classrooms. If they are feeling overwhelmed, dysregulated, or in need of something to ground or anchor them, they will have direct access to the kits.”
Each SEL Calming Kit will offer tools and guidance for the following social/emotional areas: healthy versus unhealthy relationships, emotional identification, mindfulness, defusion, cognitive distractions, stress/anxiety reduction, self-esteem building, and conflict resolution. As explained by Mrs. Concession, the kits will “provide teachers and students with pre-developed, hands-on, and interactive social and emotional learning activities and lessons. The kits are aimed to be ‘ready to go’ units of learning/teaching, thus taking away some of the anxiety teachers feel when being asked to introduce a new concept into their curriculum.”
In addition to our work on SEL Calming Kits, Dr. Nichols, Mrs. Conceison and I also worked collaboratively with teachers from the 2019-2020 Faculty Book Club to curate books that focus on mental health for the 2020-2021 school year to enhance conversations around mental health and SEL. Each book group meeting also begins with a mindfulness exercise to help encourage teacher self-care and to model techniques that could be used in the classroom.
These are a few examples of the ways the library can and does support SEL. Collaborating with school partners has proven invaluable in addressing schoolwide needs as each individual brings their own expertise, knowledge, and experience to the initiative. I would encourage others to consider what partnerships they might form to best support SEL in their own districts.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2020, July). Reunite, renew, and thrive: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Roadmap for Reopening School. https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/SEL-ROADMAP.20.pdf
CASEL. (2021). SEL: What are the core competence areas and where are they promoted? https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/CASEL-SEL-Framework-11.2020.pdf
Cipriano, C., Rappolt-Schlichtmann, G., & Brackett, M. A. (2020). Supporting school community wellness with Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) during and after a pandemic. Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University. https://www.conexionternura.com/media/documents/Supporting_School_Community_Wellness.pdf
Himmelstein, D. (2019). Teaching with Heart: How social-emotional learning transforms students and schools. School Library Journal, 65(3). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A581175186/AONE?u=mlin_n_burlhs&sid=AONE&xid=705c1733
Shafer, S. (2020, Sept. 2). Teaching Social-Emotional Skills amid COVID-19. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/teaching-social-emotional-skills-amid-covid-19/2020/09
Sharp, J. (2020). Addressing SEL is critically important this school year. Principal Leadership, 21(4), NA. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A647535480/AONE?u=mlin_n_burlhs&sid=AONE&xid=1bc66108
Schonert-Reichl, K. A. (2017). Social and emotional learning and teachers. The Future of Children, 27(1), 137+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A503262652/AONE?u=mlin_n_burlhs&sid=AONE&xid=e97dc1fc