When most educators think about social emotional learning, they probably think first about preschool and kindergarten. These are the years when students learn to get along with each other, share toys, solve disputes, and work cooperatively. These are critical foundational skills that students need to not only function in a classroom, but to function in society.
The truth of the matter is that students need a continued development of both their social skills and their emotional skills. There are different factors that influence students’ needs at each stage of development.
Considering the Stages of Social and Moral Development
For secondary students, in this case middle and high school students, there are well-researched factors that first need to be considered. Take for example Erikson’s stages of social development. At this age, students are developing a sense of identity and independence. Identity by its very nature has a social component: “How do I compare to others and how do I contrast with them?”
We should also consider students’ moral, or emotional, development along with their social development. As adolescents, students begin to progress through the stages of Kohlberg’s Model of Moral Development. Hopefully, as young adults, they are reaching the higher stages of morality, moving through the understanding of social relationships and social systems into the importance of the social contracts and universal ethical principles. Students at this age often begin to see the world beyond their own community, and may develop ideas about how to interact with it and improve it.
Incorporating Social Emotional Learning Into the Classroom
So, what should we take away from this research? How does it impact what we do in the classroom and within our school for our adolescents? Here are some actionable ideas for improving the social emotional learning of our young adults:
- Persevering through a task: Although it seems like a simple idea, completing a project independently is a key skill for a student’s development. For a student to begin a project, work through issues and obstacles, and then complete it over a period of time shows a mastery of many emotional skills—including resilience, perseverance, and planning. This is actually one of the data points that Gallup uses for the “Engaged Students” survey it provides every fall.
Action in the classroom: This one is pretty simple: Allow a student to design and complete a project that takes more than a few weeks. We can teach the skills by helping students to self-monitor their progress while planning well enough to have a successful project in the end.
- Employability: One of the keys to developing students who are successful after secondary education is to teach students employability skills. These seem simple to many professionals, but in reality, these are important skills to teach—especially for students who have not grown up with great role models. Showing up to work on time, giving 100% effort, and communicating with both subordinates and those who are in charge are all critical to being successful as an adult.
Action in the classroom: There are a variety of ways that we can teach and model employability in the classroom. Some practical skills for students are résumé writing and interviewing skills. We can also treat our classrooms like a professional workplace, which doesn’t only mean that there is someone “in charge” who demands respect, but also means that there is professionalism and autonomy for some of the projects and “work” that takes place.
- Working in a team: This could be the most critical area for students to learn social skills. I do not know of a career or industry where jobs aren’t dependent on working with a professional team or with a customer as a team. It is vital that students can communicate with those around them to work together to solve problems.
Action in the classroom: For secondary students, it may not feel very natural, but basic communication skills are essential to practice in the classroom. Listening skills, paraphrasing skills, and questioning skills are vital. These can easily be modeled in a class discussion as the next speaker up summarizes what the prior speaker was saying. It’s a simple, yet effective, approach.
- Providing for a better world: When thinking about the stages of moral development, teachers often see an idealist view from our students. Instead of being judgmental about their “pie in the sky” idealism, we can harness it and use it to help our community.
Action in the classroom: This is a great way to root the student in something meaningful (relevant), along with creating the “project completed over time” that is mentioned above. Whether it is the school community or the greater world community, help students to not only have ideals, but to put them into action.
- Interacting with an adult: It seems simple, but young adults struggle with seeing their own identity as an “adult.” Personally, I don’t think our society or our laws have very clear messages being sent to our students about this. For example, the driving, smoking, voting, and drinking ages all are different stages of “legal” adulthood.
Action in the classroom: How can we help students with this? First, treat them like adults. Have adult conversations and model asking questions and listening to responses. Even small talk is a critical skill for students to learn if they don’t have it naturally. Second, encourage them to model their behavior with support staff and visiting parents around the building. This will help students to get out of their comfort zone—and it will impress adults to see students branching out in this way.
For all of the content standards we have to teach, we may think there isn’t time for any of this “extra” stuff. We are finding that these are really some of the most critical skills that help students succeed—more than academics or test scores. Assisting students with growing socially and emotionally will have a bigger impact on their future.
How do you encourage social emotional learning in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below!