Teachers, Students, Schools 5 minute read

How to set your classroom up for success when it comes to SEL to build student (and teacher!) mental fitness

Cassandra Furst is a passionate primary school teacher who creates a positive learning environment that encourages curiosity, critical thinking and a love of learning in her students. She believes the path to positive mental health begins in the classroom which is why she has recently partnered with Smiling Mind and DECJUBA Foundation as an ambassador of the Smiling Mind Generation.


 

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is integral to the social, emotional and academic wellbeing of every student. I think you’d find it hard to find a teacher who would disagree! I personally see it as my duty as a teacher to provide my students with an education that develops the whole child—and that must include SEL. In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, delivering competent and meaningful SEL instruction is paramount to ensure our children are prepared for adult life.

This is why, like reading, writing and mathematics, SEL holds an important place in the curriculum. It fosters the development of lifelong skills that we all rely on daily, like the ability to:

  • Identify emotions
  • Adopt a growth-mindset
  • Persist
  • Show resilience
  • Develop emotional intelligence

It can sometimes feel daunting to authentically incorporate SEL instruction into the classroom with real purpose and meaning. There are a range of barriers to overcome to successfully implement SEL; it can be difficult to fit it into a jam-packed curriculum, and high expectations (and pressure) on academic outcomes can cause SEL to fall to the side.

However, research has proven that delivering a quality SEL education promotes great academic success and paves a path for life success. It would be remiss to exclude such pivotal skills from the schooling years of our future generations.

 

Benefits of delivering SEL in primary school

Although some topics may seem more challenging for younger students to grasp (empathy, self-regulation and emotion identification), children of all ages benefit equally from the delivery of a quality SEL program (Diekstra, 2008) so it’s imperative that teachers feel supported and are equipped to deliver the content effectively. Like memorising times-tables, students can’t be expected to develop social and emotional skills without prior knowledge and exposure. But with consistent practise students can hone these crucial mental resources.

I’ve seen the benefits of SEL in students first-hand, and I’ve also experienced my own set of benefits while delivering these lessons.

saw my students learning more about themselves, engaging in the topics (because they’re relevant to them!), and showing true personal development by implementing regulation strategies that work for them, identifying and verbalising their emotions, reflecting on gratitude and showing empathy for others more often.

It taught me to extend the kindness I do for my students, to myself too. I know I’m not the only teacher who puts immense pressure on myself to ensure my classroom looks beautiful, that every lesson is planned meticulously and that I give everything to my students. But realistically, and since teaching SEL, I’ve realised how silly it is to place those expectations on myself (especially the classroom aesthetics) because it’s how I’m connecting with my students that really matters. Through SEL delivery, that is one aspect of my teaching that has improved tenfold. Ultimately, students won’t remember the mismatching fonts on the walls or a décor item that doesn’t ‘match’ the classroom. They’ll remember how you made them feel.

My hope is that the delivery of SEL can provide children with consistent exposure to concepts during their thirteen years of schooling so the skills they require are carried with them during adulthood.

 

How to incorporate social and emotional learning in the classroom

My passion for teaching SEL as a specialist subject has me going from classroom to classroom, delivering social and emotional learning to each year level in the school. In doing this, I’ve developed a few tricks for incorporating SEL in the classroom.

I empathise with having a packed schedule (and the daunting thought of adding more in) but with these 4 little tips, you’ll find that embedding SEL into your classroom can be stress-free, improve the quality of your other lessons and contribute to having a happier classroom for you and your students.

 

Tip #1: Learning the lingo for a growth mindset

Introducing your students to the notion of ‘fixed’ vs ‘growth’ mindset. Life and learning can sometimes feel really hard as a little person and it’s common for them to say, ‘I can’t do it,’ (fixed mindset) when things get too difficult.

The simple language change to, ‘I can’t do it… yet,’ (growth mindset) is a cognitive shift that can create a positive attitude towards learning, academic outcomes and positive mental wellbeing.

Tips for success:

Use the Growth Mindset language during your teaching and when providing feedback to students. Making mistakes and demonstrating your own growth mindset is a powerful insight for students to see that even adults make mistakes and can bounce back from them.

 

Tip #2: Setting the stage for gratitude

Establish a routine where students are given allocated time to practise gratitude. This could be in the morning before learning begins, when answering their name on the roll or even at the very end of the day before dismissal.

The benefits of practising gratitude daily can enhance mental wellness, improve sleep, mood and immunity (Emmons, McCullogh 2004). It can also decrease depression and anxiety by rewiring your brain to focus on the positives in life (Emmons, McCullogh 2004).

While verbalising gratitude is very quick, providing a small journal to students to write down their daily gratitude is another great way for students to express their gratitude honestly and to collate a list of everything they’re thankful for that they can reflect on.

Tips for success:

Join in with students when practising gratitude. Reflect with them about how even the littlest of things (like sunshine!) is something we can be grateful for. In the beginning, you’ll find most students will list material objects, but with practise, students will begin to reflect deeply on all of the things we can be grateful for. There’s nothing quite like it when you hear a 6 year-old child say they’re grateful for learning, playing outside and their friends.

 

Tip #3: Take a break to meditate!

Introduce yourself and your students to meditation as soon as you can. The first time is never a great success (there’s lots of wriggling and giggling) but with practise, it can become one of your most effective teaching tools.

Tips for success:

Discuss the positive benefits of meditation and join in with your students so they can see you value the experience. The most success I’ve seen with meditation is to come straight back in from recess and lunch and get it going immediately. Remain consistent. It creates calm in the classroom making it considerably easier to transition back into learning. Plus, it gives you the chance to take a breath too.

Smiling Mind’s free meditation app is my go-to and gets used every day!

 

Tip #4: Creating a physical space for emotional regulation

Have a safe space available for your students to go to when they need time to regulate. This could be a calm corner in the classroom or a space somewhere in the school where students know they can go to take some deep breaths, work through their big feelings, and then leave feeling calmer and more collected.

For some students, a place may not be what they need but instead a trusted adult. Ensure that every student knows where or who they can go to for support when they require it.

Tips for success:

Teach your students and introduce them to the space at the beginning of the year. Explain what its purpose is and that it isn’t a play area, but an important and safe space for everyone. Displaying emotions posters for students to visually identify feelings is another great way to set up for success. I always recommend having some paper and pencils available so students can write or draw how they’re feeling when verbalising is just too tricky.

 

The free classroom resources and educator guides in the Smiling Mind Generation Hub will ensure you have everything you need to bring SEL to life in your classroom. Check it out!

Go to the Smiling Mind Generation Hub 

 

Cass Furst

Written by Cass Furst

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