How to Bolster Parent Engagement in Social Emotional Learning

This article was contributed by Marisa Rissling, principal of Eastside Elementary School in Lancaster, California. Principal Rissling reflects on ways that administrators and educators can support students in their SEL journey and involve all stakeholders in order to ensure the best possible outcomes within SEL.

I recently overheard a conversation between two students outside of my office, as I was preparing to meet with each of them for disciplinary reasons. As I listened, I heard them first speaking about the reasons each of them had been sent to see me, and then discussing how they could have prevented themselves from making the mistakes they did. One student brought up two of his favorite emotional management strategies, highlighting the ways they help him when he is angry.

As I listened to this conversation, I was overwhelmed with pride. Our school had employed various methods to facilitate and promote social emotional learning (SEL) for our students. In this moment it became clear we had succeeded. Our number of behavioral incidents had already declined, but now our students were actually holding each other accountable and educating one another on conflict resolution skills!

For any administrator or educator attempting to obtain this level of success for their own students, my word of advice is to create an environment of SEL that pushes beyond the walls of the school into the community. To truly support your students in their SEL journey, you will need to get all stakeholders on board with these goals, especially their parents. Here are 5 ways that our school continuously builds parent engagement to support the success of SEL in our school.

Provide Multiple Opportunities for Parents to be on Campus

At Eastside Elementary School, parents have a variety of opportunities to come to the campus and get involved, including parent university, meetings with our community liaison, and “coffee and conversation” meetings that I hold. We do this because we understand that the key to engagement is to first establish a trustful relationship with those you are trying to engage and that the best way to do this, is to sit with parents face-to-face.

As an administrator or educator, get to know the parent community of your school. It’s important that parents feel like both their needs and goals for their children are being heard, and that they understand how the school is going to support them in fulfilling each. Ensure that there are a few different ways to get parents involved to increase the likelihood that they will show up.

Explain the “Why” Behind Social Emotional Learning

Our approach to implementing our SEL program did not start with conversations among teachers and parents focused on how this could impact student behavior. Rather, we discussed how the tools and skills developed through our SEL program, Move This World, could impact us in our own lives. I wanted to shed light on the importance of managing stress, practicing mindfulness, and taking care of ourselves as adults. Once parents understood how such tools could bring value to their own lives, they were quick to jump on board with equipping their children with these tools.

In these conversations, it is important to also discuss the science and research behind SEL to help parents understand the effectiveness of the program you are using, and how your school will be evaluating it.

Equip Parents with Resources they Can Take Home

While students are given opportunities in the classroom to practice SEL daily, we want their emotional wellbeing to be supported outside of the walls of our schools as well. In our conversations with parents, we ensure that they are familiar with the fundamentals of the Move This World program, so that they can use the vocabulary and strategies at home , and feel empowered to do so.

When discussing SEL with parents, specify examples of scenarios they might experience at home with their children, including different types of conflict. Build their understanding of which tools their children can be encouraged to use as they work through said challenges or conflicts.

One component of Move This World is the use of the “10 Emogers,” which are emotional management strategies. We help provide parents with a strong understanding of each of these, and how their children can use them to help them manage their emotions.

Model the Behavior

Anytime I am leading a meeting with parents, I integrate components of Move This World into the meeting. Typically we will open and close our meetings intentionally with some of the Move This World exercises and embodied relaxation strategies. Sometimes we pass around “Emoger Cards” that we have created, which feature images of the emotional management strategies that can be used by parents and children when dealing with conflict and stress.

Using the tools alongside parents s has helped us prove t the value of the program while also encouraging parents to take care their own emotional wellbeing into consideration.

Encourage Students to talk to Their Parents About Their Program

To facilitate a conversation about SEL in both directions at home, students are also actively encouraged to talk to their families about what they are learning from Move This World. This has enabled students to practice SEL at home, and cultivate an environment for themselves conducive to SEL. In addition, this exposure for parents not only helps deepen their understanding of the Move This World program but also increases their engagement in the practices and language. Some students have even suggested emotional management strategies and wellbeing techniques to their family members.

Hearing the excitement behind a child’s voice as they discuss the various ways they are building empathy, connecting with other students, and working on managing their own emotions can help uncover the true value of practicing and supporting SEL.

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