Create the Perfect Environment for Social-Emotional Learning

by Jenna Sekerak | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist 

Children need strong social-emotional skills to thrive in school—especially during critical early years.

However, many children enter kindergarten without essential social-emotional skills. In order to gain a better understanding of this problem, researchers Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta and Cox surveyed more than 3,500 kindergarten teachers. The findings were startling, with teachers citing that many students had difficulty following directions, struggled to work in groups, possessed poor social skills and experienced trouble communicating.

These skills, while nonacademic, impact a child’s school readiness. Children with challenging behaviors are more likely to struggle in school, while children who are emotionally adjusted have a greater chance of early school success.

What does all this mean? It’s important to foster the development of social-emotional skills to help students succeed not only in school, but also in life! These tips will help you embed social-emotional learning into your instruction.

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Tip 1: Create a calm, organized atmosphere.

According to teacher and education expert Megan Dredge, “Your classroom environment speaks to your students before you utter a single word. What is your classroom saying?”

Don’t underestimate the power of your classroom environment! Your space needs to welcome students, keep them engaged and get them excited to learn. If your classroom or schedule is disorganized and chaotic, your students will respond accordingly.

Create a classroom environment that is calm, organized and predictable by developing consistent routines and procedures that produce stability in the classroom. Doing this helps students know what to expect and how to prepare. I love using charts to establish routines. Some of my favorites are Lakeshore’s Daily Schedule Chart and Literacy Centers Management Chart.

It’s also important to organize materials where students can access them and put them away. Resources like the At-Your-Seat Storage Sack and Classroom Supply Caddies are perfect for ensuring that students’ supplies are always within reach.

Tip 2: Develop and model rules and expectations.

As you set clear rules and expectations, involve children in the process to help them better understand the rules and why they are important. Keep the rules simple, clear and positive. I recommend setting no more than five rules—sometimes less is more!

No one likes to be told what not to do! Instead of creating a list of don’t rules, find a positive directive that achieves the same result. Consider the difference between “Don’t talk out of turn” and “Raise your hand to talk.”

To help children master the rules, make sure they are clearly displayed on a bulletin board or chart, such as the News & Rules Charts.

Tip 3: Provide opportunities for children to build relationships.

Communication and collaboration are crucial 21st-century skills, but they don’t develop automatically. Help children strengthen these skills by modeling clear communication, demonstrating positive collaboration and providing opportunities for interaction. Get started by setting the tone for your students and providing examples for how they should behave.

After you’ve set clear expectations, give children the chance to practice their communication and collaboration skills! Pair children up and model proper greeting techniques and good listening skills—including making eye contact, smiling, nodding to show understanding and asking follow-up questions.

Sentence stems provide support for students starting a discussion or responding to a partner. Pick up some Accountable Talk Reading Discussion Starters and a Let’s Get Talking! Prompt Box to help students enjoy enriching conversations!

Tip 4: Teach students conflict resolution skills.

In many cases, students lack the skills to resolve conflicts with others. In fact, many student conflicts that could be solved independently end up requiring teacher intervention and interrupting valuable instruction time. Teaching students about conflict resolution enriches their social skills and saves time in the long run!

KidsHealth®, a top provider of physician-reviewed content on children’s health, recommends discussing potential conflicts in everyday events and allowing students to explain how different reactions can de-escalate the conflict or make it worse. This will help kids make better choices when real conflicts come up!

Plus, there are plenty of products that make it easy to teach social-emotional skills. Lakeshore’s Social-Emotional Learning Kit for Kindergarten-Grade 1 is a great way to help children understand emotions, relationships and conflicts. The Social Studies Leveled Readers help students learn about fairness and following rules. There are even Moods & Emotions Mirrors and a Moods & Emotions Poster Pack to help students understand what different emotions look like.

We hope you’re excited to set students up for future success by establishing a classroom focused on developing social-emotional and behavioral competence. Just remember to be explicit in your teaching, patient and positive—and continue to model, model, model!

References:

  1. Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Pianta, R. C., & Cox, M. J., “Teachers’ judgments of problems in the transition to school,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly (2000): 15(2), 147-166. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222299485_Teachers’_judgments_of_problems_in_the_transition_to_school
  2. “Facts About Young Children with Challenging Behaviors,” Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior (2003). Accessed June 2017, www.challengingbehavior.org
  3. Raver, C., “Emotions Matter: Making the Case for the Role of Young Children’s Emotional Development for Early School Readiness,” Social Policy Report of the Society for Research in Child Development (2002): 16(3), 1-20. https://www.cde.state.co.us/cpp/emotionsmatter
  4. “Cool Teaching Quotes by Yours Truly,” last modified April 13, 2013, http://www.megandredge.com/cool-teaching-quotes-by-yours-truly/
  5. “PreK to Grade 2: Conflict Resolution,” KidsHealth® in the Classroom (2016). Accessed June 2017, http://classroom.kidshealth.org/prekto2/personal/growing/conflict_resolution.pdf

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