Last week, I was talking to my 12-year-old niece Annie about school. Things seemed to be going well, until she remembered she had her SEL Strategy class the next day. “Ugh, tomorrow I have SEL class.” Curious about what was driving her annoyance toward a class aimed at supporting her social and emotional well-being, she said, “It’s just so forced.”
I know I am not alone when I say I can relate. How many times has an initiative been rolled out in education with utmost importance, guaranteeing to solve the most pressing issue—only to become a nuisance?
So, how do we include these strategies in our work in a meaningful way? We have to create student buy-in. Here are some tips for success:
- Explain the why
During remote learning, I started using the Greater Good in Action strategies with my students. What really captured my students’ attention was the research-backed explanations supporting why each strategy worked. I found my students participated more when I provided those details.
- Share a mosaic of strategies
Just as we build student engagement with diverse activities, we should also diversify the SEL strategies being used. Maybe you want students to do a daily three-minute “emotional check-in” at the beginning of each class, as I described in a previous article. Just keep in mind that practice makes perfect, but variety creates interest.
- Be an active participant
When your students take time to write three things they are grateful for, you should too! Do not check your email! Students are looking to you for ultimate buy-in. Trust me: If you’re not doing it, they’re not going to do it. Furthermore, some strategies lend themselves to sharing with the class—like the gratitude list. Students can share with each other, and often they are also curious to know what you, as their teacher, are grateful for.
- Create a routine
As each student walks into my class, I greet them and hand them a sticky note. (If you were curious, yes, I go through a lot of stickies.) My students know that these notes will be used for their SEL strategy when class begins. Some display them colorfully on their binders and others shred them—nevertheless, students know what to expect.
- Share your imperfections
I am not encouraging you to have a therapy session with your students, but I do believe it is helpful to admit to being imperfect. For example, sometimes I am guilty of some harsh self-talk. And I’ve shared this with my students. I’ve also shared a helpful strategy to combat this: Speak to yourself as you would a trusted friend. What would you tell a friend after they bombed a quiz? You wouldn’t berate them, but rather you would offer them support and encouragement for the next quiz.
If all of this is becoming an overwhelming chore, consider asking your students to take over and lead the strategy for the day. After all, I often get my best ideas from my students.
By Christen Campbell
Also read: Social Justice: Moving Beyond a Single Story
 Racine, N., McArthur, B. A., Cooke, J. E., Eirich, R., Zhu, J., & Madigan, S. (2021). “Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19: A Meta-analysis.” JAMA Pediatrics 175(11): 1142–1150. Accessed May 3, 2022. doi :10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2482.