Making Time for Social and Emotional Learning in Schools

By Margie Dorshorst

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“If I had a dollar for every decision I make in a year, I’d be rich!” These words are the sentiment of many school leaders who have to make both small and big decisions each school day and throughout the year. No decision, though, is more important for a school leader than allotting the most valuable resource in schools: time. After scheduling for each subject area, lunch, and recess, school leaders may find that there is little time left in the school day for social and emotional learning (SEL). So how can schools then maximize the remaining minutes of the school day to teach the whole child and balance the teaching of social, emotional, and academic learning?

As an educational consultant for Responsive Classroom, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of school leaders across the country who have been able to build SEL into the daily schedule. Here are some successful strategies that can be used at the start of, end of, and throughout the school day that incorporate the teaching of social, emotional, and academic learning in a school implementing Responsive Classroom.

Starting the Day

There are many ways to begin the school day with SEL:

  • Greeting and Welcoming. School leaders set the expectation that students are welcomed by name with a warm and friendly greeting by several adults at the start of the learning day. Students are taught the social skill of responding to a friendly greeting and accepting a compliment:

“Good morning, Jordan! It is so responsible of you to walk your brother down to his classroom!”

“Good morning, Mrs. Feltz. I like being able to help him. Have a great day!”

  • Morning Meeting or Responsive Advisory Meeting. School leaders build this 20–30-minute period into the school schedule, ideally first thing in the morning, when students learn and practice social and emotional skills. If possible, have all school staff participate, including specialists, support teachers, and paraprofessionals.
  • Morning Announcements. School leaders often build SEL into the morning announcements. For example, “Good morning, Cardinals! We have a lot of puddles on the playground today. How might you use self-control to keep your feet dry during recess?”
  • Launching the Day With the Rules. School leaders and teachers teach social and emotional learning connected to the class or school rules. For example, “How will we follow our rule ‘Do our best’ as we start our first day of testing today?”

Throughout the Day

There are a number of opportunities during the school day to incorporate SEL:

  • Teaching and practicing routines. School leaders model the use of Responsive Classroom practices such as Interactive Modeling, role-play, and interactive learning structures with staff and students. Teachers then build these practices into the learning day for students.
  • Connect with content learning. School leaders engage teachers in discussions about which social and emotional skills will help students be successful with upcoming academic content. Teachers directly teach SEL with the content lesson.
  • Lunch and recess. Educators who supervise lunch and recess are instructed to teach, practice, and reinforce SEL in these high-interaction activities.
  • Using teachable moments. Transitions, student conflicts, and mistakes can be opportunities to teach and practice a social-emotional skill in the moment. Positive teacher language, problem-solving strategies, and logical consequences can be used to help students learn the skill in the moment.

End of the Day

Getting together before the school day ends offers a moment to build community:

  • Closing circle/closing the day. The school day ends with a group circle or whole- group reflection about the day. School leaders build this time into the end of the day, providing the opportunity to reflect on social, emotional, and academic learning for the day.

School leaders can support SEL throughout the school day by making time in the schedule for it and also by letting staff know the importance of taking time to teach SEL. Research and practical results have demonstrated increased academic achievement when schools prioritize SEL. So when a school leader is considering how to schedule the valuable time of the school day, making the time for social and emotional learning is an investment in students that results in academic gains. That is one decision that is an easy one to make.

Margie Dorshorst

Margie Dorshorst has served as an elementary principal, speech-language pathologist, able learner teacher, and staff development facilitator in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, and has been a consulting teacher for Center for Responsive Schools for 15 years. Margie has helped create systems that empower teachers and schools to design and implement innovative practices, and she is committed to supporting teachers and schools with the tools and systems that propel all children to academic and social success.