By: Lauren Perrodin

We had the chance to learn from the Supervisor of Teacher Education at the UCR Graduate School of Education, a UCR University Extension Instructor, and the Coordinator for the Youth and Gate Programs, Karen Dodson, about social-emotional learning (SEL). She is our expert in social-emotional learning.

UCR University Extension instructor Karen Dodson “There are many positive statistics that point to the fact that SEL practices improve academic performance,” Karen says. Research from the Early Intervention Foundation has found that students 11 to 19 years of age will experience a mental disorder at least once in their life, yet SEL can help prevent depression and anxiety.

Start With an Emotional Check-in

Not everyone grows up in a space where they can safely express how they’re feeling. What’s more, some individuals may regularly feel as though they’re not part of a collective community.

But, Karen says that students need to “feel connected to the classroom and school community.” This means including more “team building, content applications, daily check-ins and cooperative structures on a daily basis to build SEL outcomes.”

Give Time for Talking

“SEL is about how you teach and how you manage and structure your lessons and your classroom community,” says Karen.

Instead of only leaving time for student-to-student discussion between lessons, Karen suggests more collaborative learning throughout the day. “Cooperative learning structures where each student is made to feel an essential part of a team and each member is accountable to the whole, are a great resource for teachers.”

Create Opportunities for an Individual to Support the Whole

When asked if SEL should focus on the individual or in groups, Karen says both!

“All teachers should be required to teach in a manner that is supportive of each individual within the classroom while building the community as a whole. Scaffolding SEL structures should begin on the first day of school,” Karen explains.

“Tell students that we will be working in cooperative structures because it helps us all. Be explicit about your exceptions for cooperation and for your classroom, school and community.”

Build Social-Emotional Vocabulary

SEL is about speaking about your emotions as much as it is about creating comfort and community among your peers through clear, honest communication.

Karen says, “You can teach math in a way that is cooperative, honors the individual opinions and input of each student and makes all students accountable to the whole.”

Track Class Progress

For tracking progress, Karen had some incredible advice based on her experience:

“There is some debate about how to ‘track’ or ‘assess’ SEL. I think the academic, participation and attendance results can be one way to do so if you prefer hard statistics. I also encourage teachers to use self-created checklists. Teachers can track indicators of the five core competencies of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making by tracking classroom behaviors and actions specific to each.”

SEL is for Everyone

“I have seen cooperative learning practices based on SEL principles and the development of a community improve attendance and create an environment of support that allows students to thrive, take chances and develop positive relationships that build confidence inside and outside of the classroom.”

To learn more about SEL initiatives for your class, earn your SEL certificate from UCR University Extension.