More crucial than ever in the age of COVID, learners need to reconnect and build strong relationships. Educators are incorporating social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies and activities in their classrooms by creating routines, forming positive relationships, and building resilience. Here, we explore the practices of four HP Teaching Fellows in the U.S. and Canada.
Tara Bova is a second grade teacher at Barbara Blanchard Elementary School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She provides a clear example of how educators can easily incorporate SEL into their daily teaching practices. As a member of her school’s Trauma-Informed Team, Tara is a passionate advocate for SEL in classrooms and uses talking circles, restorative circles, and mindfulness exercises daily to refocus and help her students feel safe and grounded.
“Having second graders recognize their feelings and know when they need to ask for help is huge. SEL is not a lesson; it is the culture of your classroom,” Tara explained. Students routinely learn valuable life skills by identifying feelings, refocusing attention, and self-regulating at a formative age. These practices support a learning environment where students feel safe, connected, and able to learn.
In Alberta, Canada, Cecil Hall builds relationships with his high school students. Hall is a financial and marketing management teacher at Nelson Mandela High School in Calgary, Alberta, and uses his own personal philosophy to connect. “I grew up believing that you should do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. I’ve often said that I want to teach the students to treat them the way I treat my own kids,” Cecil explained. For Cecil, relationship-building comes from a place of mutual respect and self-reflection. He takes time to engage learners’ hearts and minds, and in turn, his students can better engage in their learning.
At Clear Water Spring High School, Megan Edlefsen isn’t only building relationships in her classroom; she’s inspiring students to connect with each other through altruistic creative projects. Teaching fashion, interior design, and personal finance, Megan shares that her students, seniors especially, needed to refocus and find motivation to learn again. That’s when she came up with a project that inspired students to create “magical moments” for their peers by designing something to give to each other. When students can connect their learning to help others, they view their work as more meaningful and beneficial.
“It not only allowed them to make something with their hands but to kind of have the joy of giving and creating magic and joy for somebody else. For those few weeks that we worked on that project, you could really see their excitement,” Megan explained. Projects that bring together a community of learners and support student creativity can be especially rewarding because it builds relationships and supports their learning on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Thomas Rogers helps his students stay connected and build resilience as a ninth grade English language arts teacher, department head, and curriculum coordinator at S. Bruce Smith School in Edmonton, Alberta. Thomas has created a climate where they feel safe and are motivated to learn, and established a classroom structure that allows students to be the leaders of their learning. (We know that students cannot learn if they do not feel physically and emotionally safe.)
Thomas shared, “I came up with these points: being attentive to the speaker, willing to work, try and do my best, engaged in the class activities, supportive of my peers, and teachers, open-minded and ready to learn new info, motivated to learn and contribute and then being empathetic to my community and to those that we encounter. And students seem, in my experience, to really understand and appreciate and relate to this.” By capturing these key points and displaying them on his classroom wall, Thomas has built a safe space where students are resilient and can focus on their learning.
When students can engage in classrooms that emphasize the importance of social-emotional learning, create positive and uplifting routines, build relationships that make an impact, and give them the tools to be resilient, they become invested in their growth achievement. As Thomas Rogers said, “Students that you can actually connect with on a personal level… That’s a powerful moment for them. And it’s not something that they will forget.”
Learn more about SEL and the HP Teaching fellows by watching a recent webinar:
HP Teaching Fellows is part of Reinvent the Classroom, an initiative by Digital Promise, HP, and Microsoft. Sign up to learn more about the Fellowship and stay connected with the HP Teaching Fellows on Twitter using #ReinventTheClassroom.