Redwood Elementary Holds School-Wide Social-Emotional Learning Day

Redwood Elementary School held its first school-wide Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Day on Nov. 23, integrating activities into the daily curriculum and underscoring its importance to students and staff.

The day of SEL was conceived by Redwood teachers Paul Stefanelli and Jennifer Paull and supported by Principal Kimya Jackson. A guide was created for teachers in K-5 to follow, offering different activities that could be adapted to each grade level, including virtual learners.

SEL is described by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “Social and emotional learning (SEL) refers to a wide range of skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can affect student success in school and life. Skills not necessarily measured by tests, like critical thinking, emotion management, conflict resolution, decision making, and teamwork would be considered SEL skills. While unable to traditionally quantify, these can round out student education and impact academic success, employability, self-esteem, relationships, and civic and community engagement.”

There are five components of SEL as developed by the CASELS District Resource Center (CDRC):

Self-awareness: Merriam-Webster dictionary describes social-emotional learning as “an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.” Having this awareness is integral to understanding a person’s own conscious knowledge of their character, feelings, motives, and desires.” From there, an understanding of how to improve oneself through positive actions can improve self-image.

Self-management: “The Oxford Dictionary describes self-management as “management of or by oneself; the taking of responsibility for one’s own behavior and well-being:” Learning how to set goals, become motivated, and managing emotions benefit the individual and others.

Social awareness: Mindvalley Blog describes social awareness as “having an in-depth understanding of societal and communal set-ups, environments, problems, struggles, norms, and cultures. It is as if you are able to feel the pulse and vibes of the society you are living in.”

As individuals learn the importance of treating others the way they want to be treated, they are able to learn social awareness on both an individual level with personal relationships, and on a broader scope with regards to diverse perspectives.

Relationship skills: describes relationship skills as “the ability, skills, tools, knowledge, knowing and understanding to create, communicate, evolve, grow, trust and maintain a relationship.”

Relationship skills are vital to be in or have a relationship to ensure we trust, grow, trust and evolve with each other. SEL skills empower students to develop relationships by providing strategies for conflict resolution and teaching that an awareness of the other person’s needs is integral to building positive relationships.

Responsible decision-making: The CDRC describes responsible decision-making as “the ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety, and social norms.”

Students are taught that making certain decisions can impact them in every aspect of their lives (social, emotional, physical, and intellectual), and how to make positive decisions for positive growth and change.

One of the West Orange School District Goals for 2021-22 is “to incorporate a daily SEL activity into all lessons, to share resources and provide support to instructional staff in this regard. The Board of Education has also listed SEL as one of their goals for 2021-22, stating, “The West Orange Board of Education will provide support to the administration in its development of district resources to support students and staff with social-emotional and mental health needs throughout the school year with mid-year and end-of-year presentations to the Board and community.”

In schools, SEL provides a safe and nurturing environment where important issues like self-image, responsibility, and diversity can be explored. These skills can go beyond the classroom. Students can develop skills to help them pursue higher education, achieve goals, and build better relationships with family and friends.

Redwood’s SEL day included several activities. To begin, each teacher provided an explanation of a particular SEL concept by using pictures, video, audio, or written text, helping students understand the concept through skill practice, discussion with a peer group or partner, or through individual writing tasks. The teacher revisits the concept throughout the week in class and with homework.

Simple exercises designed to utilize breathing as a way to reduce life stresses and calm emotions, recharging and refreshing students and staff, were included in the activities.

“We also worked on a stress alphabet with our classes,” noted Stefanelli.

A stress alphabet allows the students to work together and come up with positive or negative words relating to their idea of stress and how to address it.

“We developed ‘bridges,’ or strategies, to go from sad to happy,” he explained.

“Students were able to write them down on a card and keep them in their desks. We had a pajama day to make students more comfortable. Many of them spent time in their pajamas during virtual learning,” he added.

“We’ve been virtual for almost 1.5 years,” noted Paull, and students don’t have the stamina for a full day and its activities. Parents are saying their children are currently overwhelmed with adapting to a six-hour schedule.”

She continued, “This is the first time some of our students are interacting with others in a school setting. SEL day helps to provide a group memory, like an assembly, to help with social adaptation. We are beginning to see them loosen up.”

Research has shown that SEL not only improves mental and physical health and relationships, but it also reduces negative behaviors and disciplinary actions. In randomized trials in Chicago and Hawaii, results showed:

A 20 percent improvement in reading

An 18 percent improvement in affiliations with good friends

An 85 percent reduction in disciplinary referrals

A 62 percent reduction in violence

A 51 percent reduction in bullying

A 17 percent increase in honesty

Principal Jackson was pleased with what the team considered to be the beginning steps for the integration of SEL into Redwood culture.

“We have begun to develop strategies in addition to breathing and counting to ten. Staff can also utilize these concepts for virtual learners. The CASELS framework will help to develop relationship skills for staff, students, and families,” she remarked.

When Jackson asked students to give her a word that could switch them from sad to happy, she quickly found her favorite one: ice cream. It may just become an SEL mantra at Redwood.

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