Welcome to our SEL Blog Part 2! If you haven’t read Part 1 click here >
We have certainly learned a great deal over the past year, and the new year looks to be promising.
We have learned lessons from our recent past and are experiencing a much needed heightened awareness to attend to the emotional well-being of our students and also to the emotional well-being of ourselves. With this said, even small adjustments to instruction can make a big difference for students. The following are five MORE ideas to help structure teaching to improve students’ emotional well-being. (Be sure to see also Part 1 of this blog post for the first five ideas).
6. Make a Joyful Noise
Most of us aren’t professional musicians or music teachers, but we can all sing, or play a song everyone can sing to. Singing together raises spirits and promotes a strong sense of community.
Singing opens kids up to healthy emotions even if they only mouth the words or even just watch and listen to everyone else. Lyrics with meaningful messages sink in over time, changing the way they feel about what they’re doing and how you’re leading them through it.
Playing instrumental music, especially during extended work periods, is also great. And it’s easy to find on YouTube.
Want hours of terrific steel-string acoustic guitar for background? Search for Andy McKee. Want one of the most moving and heartfelt songs of the year? Find Sara Bareilles and John Legend singing “A Safe Place to Land”.
Want something joyous and inspirational? Listen to 12-year old Tevin Campbell singing, “Better You, Better Me”. Want something sonically astounding? The acapella group, Pentatonix, provides one-of-a-kind musical experiences.
If you subscribe to a streaming service, your musical life gets even better. For a monthly fee, you can find all kinds of activity- and mood-oriented playlists.
We shouldn’t have to spend money for things we need at school, but sometimes we do. Ten dollars a month for easily accessible, highly varied, commercial-free music might be the best $10 you spend all year on your students’ emotional well-being—and on your own, too.
7. Make the Good Things Count
When things aren’t going the way we want them to, we may fall into the habit of feeling like everything is going wrong all the time. But this is never true.
Engage your students in noticing the positives. Wrap up the day by asking them to write down at least one good thing that happened. Better still, keep a running list as you go, inviting students to share the positive actions, results, and feelings they experience as they experience them.
When polling the entire class, move quickly. Type up comments as students offer them or have students throw them into a chat window.
Start the next day’s class with a run-down of things that went well the day before. Repeat the process regularly. This will help both you and your students build the habit of seeing the positives just as clearly, and likely even more so, as the negatives.
This isn’t a hopey-changey pollyanna practice. It’s powerful psychology at work. Negative experiences are widely shared and highly repetitive. List them out regularly, and you’ll likely find that your lists are similar.
Negativity is boring, often to the point of being generic. In contrast, positivity tends to be specific, varied, individualized, even surprising.
If we do this regularly, we build a new habit: the habit of optimism, one of the best habits we can bring to school with us each day under any circumstance.
8. The Eyes Have It
Remote schooling is exhausting. The small amount of research we have about why suggests that a lack of eye contact may be a culprit. Tracking the speaker—in this case, helping learners follow your facial movements and physical gestures—leads to a less frustrating, less tiresome, and less stressful experience of attending to lessons.
Start by “showing up big”, introducing something new with a full-screen view of you, eyes bright, smile wide, looking straight into your camera. Ask students to “fill the frame” by looking straight into their cameras.
Attention may wander soon enough but beginning with strong eye contact optimizes initial engagement and improves emotional resonance between you and your students, and your students and each other.
9. Teach Outside the Box
No one would suggest a teacher stand up in front of a video camera all day. But moving to a standing position from a sitting position is likely to be helpful. You may find it energizing. Students may find it surprising. Everyone may benefit from increased attentional focus and sustained engagement.
Standing back from the camera, even pushing back in your chair, allows you to use natural hand and arm gestures when you explain things, gestures learners depend on.
This “outside the box” style of presenting may also help students feel more like they’re in a classroom, or at least that you are, and that they are sharing the same physical space with you even though they’re not.
10. Have a Morning Meeting
Many teachers, particularly in self-contained classrooms, begin their day with a brief morning meeting. This works almost as well remotely as it does in person.
A morning meeting helps you gauge kids’ emotional readiness for the day. It also gives students a chance to express anxieties they may be chewing on.
With patience and empathy, guide them in a discussion that clears the air and wipes the slate clean for a new day.
Morning meetings take many forms: open discussions, themed discussions, discussions framed by open-ended questions, responses to a quotation, other text, image, video, etc. When presenting sights or sounds, try this line of questioning: “What does it say to you? What do you say to it?” This transforms responses, changing them from monologue into dialogues.
While discussions are almost always interesting, there’s more emotional value to be found here than that afforded by sharing alone. Letting students to start the day with something easy to think about and no fear of evaluation in responding to, helps them settle into the school day free of the typical performance anxiety many come to class with. It also helps you determine how settled they are, and how you may want to settle them more suitably before you begin your instruction.
Final Feelings, Final Thoughts
Please never lose sight of how much of a difference you are making in the lives of your students. A simple smile on a web call can go a long way. A phone call to check in with a student who did not show up for a virtual class with the question, “how are you?” instead of “where were you?” can make a real difference to a child.
Go forward with hope for a better year to come. Go also with the assurance that you are making a difference, and what you are doing is “enough”. Just don’t give up. Your students need you.
And never feel guilty for taking the time to invest in an emotionally healthy you. Read a good book, draw a picture, say “no” to one more commitment, go to bed early, turn off the computer at a pre-set time, take a walk to ease your mind, etc. Selfcare is paramount to promoting the emotional well-being of your students and those with whom you live.
Best wishes for a happy, hope-filled new year.