In the special education classroom, promoting social emotional learning (SEL) is essential for nurturing the development of our students. By intentionally infusing SEL strategies throughout the school day, we create a positive and inclusive environment where students can thrive academically and emotionally.
Not only will it help students gain important skills like building positive relationships, problem solving, and goal setting, it will also lead to a decrease in disruptive and challenging behaviors.
In this blog post, we will explore practical ways to incorporate SEL into specific moments throughout the day, including upon entering the classroom, during morning meetings, small group time, independent work, and closing circles.
The amazing part of SEL is that it can easily be infused into all parts of your day without much additional work or time from you! Let’s dive in.
One of the simplest yet powerful ways to establish a positive classroom climate and really start to develop relationship skills is by greeting students by name as they enter the classroom. This small gesture shows that you value each student as an individual and sets a welcoming tone for the day.
Take the time to make eye contact, smile, and engage in brief conversations, allowing students to feel seen, heard, and valued. This is the best way to start students off on the right foot and to build upon your relationship with the student.
This helps set the school climate as a welcoming place. Many times, we are running around getting last minute things together and students walk in and out of our classroom while they are getting ready without even a hello from us.
By just being sure you greet the students, it models an appropriate social skill that many students are lacking, it creates a positive school environment and it takes no additional time or prep from you! This strategy can be used whether you teach elementary school all the way up through high school.
Morning meetings provide an ideal opportunity to foster SEL skills and build a sense of community. This is a great time to help students feel connected to you, their peers and their classroom community.
During morning meeting, you can target all 5 core competencies of social emotional learning. Consider incorporating the following elements, which are some of the best practices for your classroom and school community:
Begin the meeting by allowing students to share their thoughts and feelings. This check-in time encourages self-awareness and helps students develop the language to express their emotions. This may take longer for some students than others. A good tip is to start the year by asking this or that questions just about interests and likes. This can get students to open up, and help them realize they have things in common with their peers.
b) Work on specific social skills
You can use this time to do specific social skill lessons that the class may need as a whole. Maybe it is in regards to responsible decision making, how to handle a conflict, or how to engage in some positive self talk.
Morning meeting is normally a lower stress time for students (as in relation to an academic block of work) and they will be more willing to engage in the strategies you are teaching them because they are not already angered and upset.
There are many social emotional learning programs out there that you can use. One is using task boxes. They are easily organized and grab and go when you realize there is a specific skill you need to teach your students. They get kids learning in a new way, and they give you scenarios so you do not have to be constantly thinking of new scenarios. Grab your set here.
c) Social Connections
Engage in activities that promote positive relationships among students, such as icebreaker games, team-building exercises, or sharing personal experiences. Encourage active listening and respect for differing perspectives.
When students feel connected to each other, they are going to develop more positive relationships. They may develop collective goals as a class and supportive relationships and therefore start to work together instead of becoming upset at each other.
Another positive outcome of supporting those social connections, is that students who feel connected are also less likely to act out. They know their friends are there to support them and they can work to develop positive goals to maintain calm and in the classroom, instead of getting upset and running away.
d) Goal Setting
Guide students in setting personal or academic goals for the day or week. Encourage them to reflect on their progress regularly and celebrate achievements. Goal setting is one of the main teaching points of SEL.
Goal setting helps students feel success, it allows them to measure success easily when they make goals that are measurable. When students track their own progress, and then achieve the goal they set- it can lead to better mental health, stronger sense of self worth, and overall academic learning.
Small Group Time
a) Collaboration and Communication
Assign group projects or activities that require students to work together, share ideas, and practice effective communication skills. Provide guidance on active listening, turn-taking, and respectful feedback. If you have students that are constantly in conflict, pulling them aside- setting some norms or rules for how they need to respectfully listen to one another, and then talking it out can alleviate a lot of emotional stress from both the students and you!
Present students with real-life scenarios or academic challenges that require problem-solving skills. Encourage them to explore multiple solutions, consider consequences, and evaluate the effectiveness of their approaches. Problem solving can be hard for students. Conflict resolution is even challenging for many adults! However, this is a crucial skill in child development. Some just need it spelled out more than others.
SEL can also be seamlessly integrated into independent work periods. We know there are students who are going to need more than just the whole group lessons. They may need specific skills and strategies to work on. Once you teach a skill or strategy, having them practice it for independent work can be another way to infuse SEL into the classroom.
Provide time for students to reflect on their progress, identify strengths and areas for growth, and set personal goals. Use reflection journals or self-assessment checklists to promote self-awareness.
Self reflection can help students reach the appropriate end goal on their own. This can be empowering for them and give them life long skills that they would not otherwise get.
Teach strategies for self-regulation, such as deep breathing exercises, positive self-talk, or brief mindfulness activities. Encourage students to apply these techniques when facing challenges or experiencing frustration.
These all should be taught to a student when they are completely calm and do not have any emotional distress for the first few times teaching and practicing. Having these techniques paired with a visual hands on tool can have a positive impact on their ability to use the techniques appropriately.
When students are unable to regulate their emotions, it can impact academic development, emotional intelligence, and their collaborative relationships. This is why teaching these skills is so important. Here is a completely free set of self-regulation tools that you can download and use with your students!
At the end of the day, we all just want the busses to come and everyone go home. However, adding in a closing circle can elevate your SEL implementation and creating that warm, inviting classroom culture that you want. Closing circle is an opportunity to wrap up the day and reinforce SEL skills:
a) Reflection and Appreciation
Encourage students to reflect on their accomplishments, challenges overcome, or acts of kindness they witnessed or experienced during the day. Emphasize gratitude and appreciation for each other’s efforts. Even if students had a challenging day, there is something positive in every day. So often student engage in negative self talk. By pausing and drawing attending to the positive, students can develop better self awareness and change the way they talk to themselves.
b) Closure Rituals
Develop consistent closure rituals, such as sharing highlights of the day, engaging in a brief mindfulness exercise, or expressing well wishes for the evening. These rituals provide a sense of closure and foster a positive classroom culture.
Just by giving students structure and predictability will be a calmer end to your days and help both you and your students!
By infusing social emotional learning strategies into specific moments throughout the day, special education teachers can create an environment that nurtures students’ social-emotional growth.
Greeting students by name, implementing meaningful morning meetings, leveraging small group time, integrating social emotional learning into independent work, and embracing closing circles all contribute to fostering positive relationships, self-awareness, problem-solving skills, and overall emotional well-being.
Having strong social-emotional skills not only supports students’ academic success but also equips them with essential life skills for their future. And do not forget, that when students have all of these skills it will ultimately lead to better classroom behavior, more mature social interactions, and the positive attitudes students need to learn!
Let’s seize the opportunity to create a nurturing and inclusive special education classroom that empowers our students!