When teachers intentionally support families by communicating to parents the social-emotional language, routines, and activities to be reinforced outside of school, they send a clear message that the development of these skills, along with the academic success of students, is much greater when schools and parents collaborate and work together with purpose. As one study noted,
(Salazar & Miller, 2017, p. 2)
Families are a child’s first teacher and an essential factor in the cultivation of social and emotional competencies throughout a child’s life. When schools and families work together, they can build strong connections that reinforce social-emotional skill development. In fact, research suggests that evidence-based SEL programs are more effective when they extend into the home.
For both children and adults, social and emotional skills are lifelong, ever-evolving skills. Educators practice the competencies daily in their professional lives. Whether it’s exercising self-discipline in regard to their workload, taking the perspective of others in order to empathize during a difficult conversation, or evaluating the responsibility, impact, and consequences that their day-to-day actions have on students, families, and colleagues, educators are always in development.
Much of the SEL work happening in classrooms directly relates to the ongoing development of core competency skills in the professional and personal lives of parents, too. Many parents are already engaged in their own social-emotional practices—utilizing strategies to self-calm before responding with emotion, self-managing stress at work and home, or when making responsible decisions for themselves and their children. In order for students to make progress with their own skills, it is important for teachers and parents to model a shared understanding of SEL competencies and show a collaborative commitment to their development in school and at home.
Connecting Home and School With SEL
Albright et al. (2016) found that “when parents and teachers use similar strategies to foster SEL, it eases the transition between home and school and creates consistency and continuity in expectations for behavior, which enhances not only children’s developing skill sets, but also the relationships between children and their parents, teachers, siblings, and peers.” Just as teachers share curriculum updates regarding core subject areas in weekly emails or newsletters to parents, information and suggested activities regarding SEL could be communicated in a similar fashion. Here are five suggestions to help support parents supplement SEL best practices learned in class:
Vocabulary. Educators often assume that parents share the same understanding of common educational language, but this is not always the case. It is important for teachers to help families understand what SEL means. To proactively promote a common dialogue and positive connection, educators should explicitly teach families key social-emotional vocabulary terms and their meanings. Having a shared vocabulary for self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making will help build and sustain a solid foundation in the school-home partnership.
- Consider adding an SEL word (or words) of the week in your correspondence with parents. Include a section that will help parents highlight and celebrate moments when these words are in action. For example: What does maintaining composure look like at home? Perhaps it’s a child waiting patiently when it’s a sibling’s turn to choose what television show to watch that night, or perhaps it’s using a self-calming strategy when feeling nervous or anxious before trying something new.
- Share a quick summary in your communication with parents of moments when adults may experience SEL vocabulary in their own lives. For example: Did this morning’s traffic get the best of you? Were you a bit impulsive with your choices due to the stress a delay caused? Encourage parents to engage in conversations with their child about their own experiences using the same SEL language.
Model. It is no secret that children are always watching. Most often parents and teachers serve as a child’s first and most consistent role models. When it comes to leading by example, there are many ways that teachers can support parents in their SEL work at home. In your communication with families, reassure parents that this is not meant to be an overwhelming process. Chances are many parents are already modeling SEL behaviors and not realizing it. Knowing this, all it takes is a quick shift in mindset and awareness to model SEL behaviors during day-to-day activities.
- If your school participates in a mindfulness program or practice, consider sharing simple meditations for parents to complete with their children. Another option is to use your phone or an app to record a simple meditation that your students are familiar with and share it with families to practice at home. Students are much more likely to engage in mindful moments with the ones they love.
- It is never easy to admit to a mistake. Educators encourage students to honor their mistakes and to celebrate their necessary role in the learning process. In your conversations with parents, especially the ones about their child’s mistakes, remind them that children need to see adults making mistakes, too. While we may believe role models need to demonstrate only the positive behaviors we aim to acquire, children benefit just as much from seeing the adults they admire practice accountability and self-reflection during times of missteps and failure.
Communicate. In Strengthening the Parent-Teacher Partnership, Jane Cofie states, “Relationships take work. Strong relationships include communication, trust, and respect. A strong and successful partnership between educators and parents is no different” (2021, p. 2). As educators, we understand the truth in Cofie’s words: Communication between teachers and parents is the lifeline to a student’s success academically, socially, and emotionally. In supporting families with SEL work outside the classroom, it’s important for teachers to communicate helpful tips and tricks that will spark meaningful and relevant conversations between parents and their children.
- Encourage parents to retire the age-old “How was your day?” question. In its place, consider posting on your class website or in your weekly communication to families some thought-provoking SEL question prompts with fixed vocabulary that will ensure more specific answers from students. For example: Can you give an example of how you were open-minded today? What was a challenge you experienced today that you were able to persevere through? Motivate parents to participate in answering these prompts with their children. This will not only foster deeper discussion but will allow parents to continue modeling positive SEL behaviors.
- Teachers will often communicate with parents when their child exhibits negative behavior. Positive behavior is often not communicated enough and is usually passed along in short bursts: Jack was a great friend! In an effort to streamline SEL language between home and school when noting a student’s positive behavior, it’s important that educators begin to weave specific vocabulary into these conversations. For example, rather than share that Jack was a great friend, consider something more specific: Jack showed empathy today by being receptive to new ideas different from his own. This kind of note helps parents engage in a deeper conversation with their child and can ultimately lead to a stronger impact on the child’s learning.
Reflect. Social and emotional learning is a lifelong journey that requires constant reflection. Many SEL programs include this critical component in their lessons. To help parents feel more confident in the modeling of their own SEL reflection, teachers can provide support by sending various familiar prompts and exercises home to assist with the process. This will benefit students greatly and will offer them an opportunity to reflect on their own social and emotional strengths as well as their areas of growth alongside their families.
- Assign families SEL homework. There is nothing children enjoy more than telling their parents that they have homework, too! Create a simple worksheet template containing open-ended prompts using specific SEL vocabulary. Direct parents and students to complete their own worksheet independently and then discuss their answers afterward.
- Teachers often hear from parents that bedtime is usually when students open up the most about something that’s causing them to feel distressed at school. In an effort to get ahead of the bedtime worries, encourage families to instill a new routine before lights out. For example, many classrooms that participate in closing meetings at the end of the school day hold space for students to share moments of pride from the day. Parents can follow a similar practice by inviting their child to share one reason they are proud of themselves before closing their eyes. It is a sure way to a sweet sleep for all.
Include. Students enjoy and look forward to having their parents visit their classrooms. After all, there is so much for the students to show off! In an effort to increase SEL awareness and engagement outside of school, it’s important for parents to see it in action at school. Now that we’re living in a postpandemic world, many parents are eager to visit their children’s classrooms. What better way to celebrate the social-emotional learning happening in the classroom than by inviting parents to see it for themselves.
- Similar to the Mystery Reader activity, create an opportunity for parents to be surprise guests during SEL lessons. Perhaps call it SELebrity, if you will! The parents’ role will be to act as if they are a student in your class, engaging in all aspects of the SEL lesson. Not only will the students find this fun, but the anticipation of the surprise guest will only deepen the impact of the lesson.
- Make time to SELebrate! Similar to Star of the Week or share time during Morning Meeting, set aside a time for students to show what their SEL learning looks like at home. For example, students can bring in a photo or an artifact of their social-emotional learning to share with the class. Another option would be to invite students’ families in once a month to share. Depending on the age group of your class, encourage families to share their stories regarding their own social-emotional growth and development. Learning from parents and experiences similar to this will continue to grow and strengthen your class community connections.
Five Quick and Easy Suggestions for Parents to Incorporate SEL
We live in a fast-paced world, and chances are the parents experience the brunt of the busyness of everyday life. From racing to get everyone out of the house in the morning for school and work, to pickups and drop-offs at after-school activities in different locations, the days of leisurely moments before and after school seem to have disappeared.
The idea of being asked to incorporate SEL best practices at home might feel like one more chore on a parent’s to-do list. Teachers, though, need to reassure families that this is not the case. SEL work does not have to feel overwhelming and daunting. In fact, SEL can be easily woven into many regular day-to-day routines of a family. All it takes is a mindful shift in perception to bring them to light. Check out the suggestions in the table on the next page for meaningful SEL activities that can be done during the usual routines of the day.
Educators need to work collaboratively with parents as they guide students to strengthen their social and emotional skills outside of the classroom. By partnering together with SEL as the shared common goal, teachers and parents not only serve as role models for our students but also send a strong message that the magic of social and emotional learning lies within the fact that no matter the age, we are always learning from each other.