Looking at the Classroom Management Through the Social-Emotional Learning Lens
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an approach that teaches self-regulation, self-monitoring, and social skills in school settings. SEL has been shown to be an effective method of reducing negative social interactions and increasing academic achievement. This article relates the experiences of one intermediate school principal and her staff as they used SEL strategies to change the climate and culture of their highly diverse school population. Classroom management is discussed as the vehicle used by the teachers, while the principal aligned school procedures with the philosophy of SEL. The article describes the lessons they learned and suggests directions for future research into how SEL can make effective and meaningful contributions to the field of education.
In SEL classrooms, students are taught to use Active Listening, I-Messages, and other effective communications skills so that the interactions within the class are clear, positive, and supportive. In Active Listening, students learn to paraphrase messages they receive from others and check for understanding. I-Messages help to avoid blaming and accusations because students learn to express only how words or actions affect them. They learn to empathize with their classmates through pair-shares, role play, and class meetings. They also learn decision-making and problem-solving skills to help them develop skills in goal setting, consequential thinking, and coping strategies to deal with the conflicts, stresses, and challenges of life. The integration of these skills into the academic content teachers are required to teach allows for more and frequent opportunities to practice them.
For my staff and me, classroom management became the most logical home for SEL. It became the way teachers established expectations, rules, and procedures, and it set the tone for the ways students would interact over the year. Part of our discipline plan was that students would complete a "Problem Solving Diary" that asked them to tell about the problem they were having, identify their goal, and generate some alternatives for approaching the problem that would yield a more positive result. Students learned a skill called, "Keep Calm," which uses deep breathing to help get strong emotions under control before thoughtless negative actions were taken. This helped to greatly decrease the number of fights and confrontations at recess. Teachers learned to use a common language throughout the school and to set common standards of behavior for all children no matter where they were in the building. The teachers also found that the time it took to teach and practice these skills was regained as they became routines.