Social and Emotional Learning

Creating School Environments that Support Social and Emotional Learning: 5 Tips for District Leaders

 //  Sep 24, 2018

Creating School Environments that Support Social and Emotional Learning: 5 Tips for District Leaders

Once again, another school year is in full swing. The beginning of the year is an important time for us to make sure that we’ve created supportive school environments where our students can develop the social and emotional skills they’ll need to flourish in school, with their peers, and in life.

As we all know, social and emotional learning (SEL) has become a “hot topic” in education. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social-emotional learning is defined as the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. If you’ve heard me speak at a convention or district event, you have most certainly heard me say, “There’s greatness on the inside.” For me, social-emotional learning comes down to creating learning environments where our students are aware of their greatness and understand how to use it to reach their full potential.

Before we think about what SEL looks like in our classrooms and worry about what programs are most effective, let’s make sure we’ve created a safe and supportive environment for learning in our schools—an environment where SEL learning can be successful. SEL programs and products will only work if we have created the foundation for them to do so.

CASEL’s foundational research lays out five key competencies of social and emotional learning, which I have used as a basis for the Byron V. Garret Social-Emotional Learning Collection. I want us to revisit these, and for each competency, I would like to provide you with an action to take to ensure that you are creating the right environment in your school or district to support this goal. Some of these may seem like common sense but it never hurts for us to take a step back and revisit the simple things that can make a difference.

COMPETENCY #1: Understanding Myself

Empowering our students to be able to identify and discuss their emotions as well as possess self-awareness and self-confidence

LEADER TIP: Believe in yourself, believe in your students

You are a role model, everything you do and say will be observed and mimicked. By devoting your life to education you are truly making an impact in this world. You are the agent for your own success and you set the example for what success looks like for your students. Make sure you are strong, determined, and present, meaning that you are a visible part of your school’s culture. This means being present at school functions and activities, popping into classrooms, and talking to students at lunch or during recess. Get to know your students on a personal level, ask them about their interests and their activities, and encourage them to follow their dreams. Show them you are there to support them in their endeavors. When you believe in a child and show that you are there to support them, they are much more likely to believe in themselves.

COMPETENCY #2: Managing Myself

Helping our students develop the ability to connect their thoughts to actions, to control impulses, and to manage their behavior

LEADER TIP: Make sure your schools and teachers are inviting students to the table

How can we expect our students to learn to manage themselves if we don’t empower them to learn what management is by inviting them to leadership roles in the classroom and the school? This is crucial if we want them to learn to self-manage and manage others.

COMPETENCY #3: Respecting Others

Helping our students to understand how to be empathetic and learn how to understand perspectives of people from diverse places and cultures

LEADER TIP: Celebrate diversity!

Classrooms today are more diverse than ever. We have a responsibility to celebrate diverse backgrounds and to make every student feel accepted by their school community. This acceptance is key to helping our students learn how to accept others. To do this, it is essential that we involve families and the community through efforts such as inviting them to the school campus. This could take various forms such as hosting culture nights, literacy events, school fairs, or even sending an open invitation to join students for lunch.

COMPETENCY #4: Building Relationships

Helping our students to communicate and work together. This allows them to be able to develop and sustain healthy relationships

LEADER TIP: Sustain strong relationships with your school and community

I’ve mentioned the importance of getting to know your students on a personal level. By doing so you are modeling effective communication, which is essential to cooperation. I’ve also mentioned the importance of involving family and community and maintaining strong relationships with your educators and staff. The strong relationships you cultivate will guide your students to build strong relationships of their own.

COMPETENCY #5: Making decisions

Empowering our students to be able to recognize conflict, evaluate situations, and find solutions

LEADER TIP: Lead with confidence

Not all conflicts have easy resolutions. Sometimes compromises must be made. As we all know life can be messy. Things come up that we don’t always want or expect. When this happens we must keep moving forward and this often requires us to regroup and reevaluate. By doing this with confidence and transparency we are demonstrating to our students that this is a normal part of life and we must learn to expect conflict and not look at it as a roadblock but as an opportunity to find a better solution.

As we continue into the school year remember that you are your school’s greatest role model and you must practice what you preach. Set the example for success and your students will follow.


You can follow Byron V. Garrett on Twitter at @Byronvgarrett. Learn more about The Byron V. Garret Social-Emotional Learning Collection