This article was originally published in District Administration on Aug. 31, 2021 by our SEL Ambassador Rachelle Cook.
While the start of last school year was filled with unknowns, the start of this school year is bringing a lot of big feelings. From feeling overwhelmed at the learning gaps our students are facing to feeling excited (or nervous) to be back on campus together to feeling cautious about the continuing pandemic, our students and educators are going to be carrying a lot as they walk onto campus for a new school year.
We can’t simply brush these feelings aside and jump back into school as we knew it before the pandemic. We have an opportunity to reset our communities and revisit our values. What is important to us? How do we support each other? As the school year begins, we can start the year with a strong foundation and build resilient communities that support each other through any challenges this year may bring.
Incorporating social emotional learning school-wide gives educators, students, and their families the tools to strengthen their community and navigate challenges. Here are 4 ways to build community with SEL at the start of the school year:
1. Create time and space for SEL
We’ve implemented a social-emotional learning curriculum to make it easier for our teachers to implement SEL regularly. This helped us provide structure around when, where, and how students would practice SEL intentionally every day. In our district, each teacher does Move This World as part of their morning routine in the elementary classrooms. Our middle school teachers do this during homeroom each morning. We have seen our students over time be better at handling, controlling, and expressing their emotions. Our students seem more in tune with how others are feelings as well as how their actions affect others.
2. Incorporate creative practices to deepen SEL
Creative practices are part of our SEL curriculum, and teachers are able to incorporate these creative strategies like drawing, creating frozen statues with our bodies, or writing throughout the day as students need support with transitions or during conflicts. I have seen my teachers use Move This World after lunch or after an assembly to bring everyone back together. I have also seen my teachers incorporate creative practices when a situation arises either with social groups of classmates or on the fly.
3. Focus on play and movement
It is so important for all students to have time for a brain break and move their body in order for them to focus on the academic items throughout the day! This is why our teachers start each morning with a movement-and-play-based SEL curriculum, and then sometimes utilize the curriculum again in the afternoon or to close the day.
4. Create time for reflection
We have been trying to incorporate more reflection in our community, not just as staff but also with our students. We know as teachers reflection is so important to determine if lessons went well and are students grasping the concept. We encourage the same for our students. We want them to reflect and see what works for them so they can continue to grow. All students are unique, and social-emotional learning gives students the language to understand what they are passionate about, how to respond to challenges, and how to ask for help. Our SEL curriculum builds this reflection time into daily exercises, and it’s important to give students the time, language, and framework to reflect on their own learning.
Our students need us this year. By intentionally incorporating social-emotional learning at the beginning of the year, you can create a strong and resilient school community that gives all students a sense of belonging, safety, and purpose.
Rachelle Cook is the Superintendent of Alanson Public Schools in Alanson, Michigan. She holds a Masters in Education from Grand Valley State, a Bachelor of Science in Education from Western Michigan University, and both Michigan Professional Education and Administration Certificates. Prior to serving as the Superintendent, Cook was the Director of Student Achievement at Alanson Public Schools, supervising and mentoring K-8th grade teachers, and has also served the district as Interim Elementary Principal, a 6th grade teacher, and 2nd grade teacher.