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5 Social-Emotional Learning Strategies For Returning to School

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Vae Champagne is the Associate Director, Programs at Sandy Hook Promise where she develops curriculum and resources for the Know the Signs programs and SAVE Promise Clubs. She is a former educator who has more than two decades of experience in youth development and urban education. She is joined by co-author Dr. La-Shanda West, a Social Studies teacher of 19 years for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools System. Dr. West became a SAVE Promise Club Advisor in 2018 following the school shooting tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

Connection is paramount to a successful school year. As we edge closer into back-to-school season, we’re focused on how to provide bridges and opportunities for students, educators, and other school staff to socialize, interact, and feel a sense of belonging. Our program experts have developed these five surefire ways to ease back into the classroom with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) essentials.

Sandy Hook Promise’s Start with Hello program is SEL-based and contains a bundle of resources for creating a safe, secure, and welcoming start to the school year by teaching three steps: 1. See someone alone; 2. Reach out; 3. Start with “hello.”

You can infuse these Start With Hello-inspired tips into your back-to-school plans to help everyone reconnect:

1. Boost relationship and social awareness skills with a “Welcome Crew”

Help students, teachers, and staff feel a sense of safety, security, and belonging at the start of the school day with a “Welcome Crew.” Designate a day of the week for a student group to welcome everyone to the building or campus.

2.Make SEL inclusive and antiracist

It’s never too late to make Diversity, Equity, and Belonging work (DEB) drive SEL practices and initiatives. 

“SEL that fails to address our sociopolitical reality and combat racial and social injustice will not prepare our young people for the world they will inherit – one fraught with hate, misunderstanding, and bigotry.”  

Dena Simmons, Founder of LiberatED

SEL isn’t a one-and-done presentation. When SEL programs are integrated into classroom activities and lesson plans, they play a part in dismantling dominance, perfectionism, and cookie-cutter unit plans that can perpetuate racial disparities.

Without a doubt, SEL should be created using feedback from students.

There are many ways to foster an inclusive approach to your SEL curriculum. Incorporate purposeful activities and lessons that foster empathy and honor the value of identity. Routinely allow students time and space to connect. Thousands of schools across America are creating a culture of belonging with activities, like those you’ll find in the Start With Hello program.

3. Prioritize the times of day when connecting and socializing can happen organically

Create space for students to simply connect and socialize. Instead of the academic “Do Now” assignment, set out conversation cards on students’ desks and dedicate five minutes at the start of each class for simple student connectors.

Other ways to encourage organic social engagement include:

  • Organize drop-in spaces throughout the school day where students can go to simply hang out and do an activity, like listening to music or coloring.
  • Change the environment and let students connect outdoors.
  • Host student leadership club activities, like SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) Promise Clubs, during the school day whenever possible.

4. Integrate SEL and wellness checks for educators or staff

SEL for school staff is critical. Make time in each staff meeting or mandatory professional development workshop to support educators with self-care time, strategies, and activities.

5. See someone alone? Start with a “hello”

Staff and students can make intentional efforts this year to reach out to others. Start With Hello teaches inclusion practices to support students who are showing signs of loneliness or social isolation.

New Bonus Activities! Check out these 10-15 minute Start With Hello SEL/CASEL competency-aligned activities for your classroom.

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