- Dawn DeCosta, the principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School in New York City, has been implementing the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER program, a social-emotional learning program, with great success, detailed an interview in on Chalkbeat.
- The focus of RULER — which stands for recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating emotion — is teaching students to identify the emotions they're feeling as specifically as possible, beyond simply happy or sad, and anticipating how what they're feeling will impact their interactions with other people.
- DeCosta has established a "common language" that transcends grade levels by working meditation, mindfulness, brain breaks, yoga and various forms of artistic expression into the curriculum. The goal is student ownership of their emotional state and an ability to use the RULER techniques outside of the structured environment of the classroom.
Although social-emotional learning (SEL), sometimes called character education, is being embraced by school leaders, only 40% of principals reported having a clear plan for implementing it, according to a recent survey conducted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), in collaboration with Hart Research Associates.
The linchpin, it seems, is making sure that all members of the school community (teachers, parents, and other stakeholders) are familiar with the tenets of the program so that they can reinforce the language and principles consistently across different settings. The CASEL survey pointed out that school-level plans were more common in districts with strong central office support of SEL.
Additionally, schools considering themselves "high implementers" are more likely to involve teachers as well as out-of-school stakeholders in SEL efforts. Some teachers may see SEL as just another trendy acronym that will pile more responsibility on their already-full plates. But one Nashville school has earned their buy-in by establishing SEL practices for staff so they can see the benefits in a personal way. Teachers there “tap-in and tap-out” when they need a breather to decompress. They text a colleague to request that they cover their class for a few minutes, or perhaps take over with a particular student who might benefit from a fresh approach at that moment.
It may be helpful to make sure staff members understand the different types of SEL programs commonly in use. Skill-focused promotion uses an “explicit instruction” approach, academic integration weaves SEL into the curriculum, teaching practices emphasize positive student-teacher relationships, and organizational reform might include teachers looping with students to the next grade, community-based learning partnerships and teaming up with families. In relationship to the latter, one tactic is to send home activities for students over the weekends and school breaks to do with their family members. An example might be observing a parent's mood over the course of a day or days, or reflecting on how an argument with a parent might have escalated. Another tactic is to train parent volunteers in SEL practices, who then in turn provide guidance to other parents, which makes the advice relatable.