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Community Conversations: Social Emotional Learning

by Melinda Kaufman, Lower School Director and Tim Campbell, Middle School Director


Sarah Davies, School Psychologist, joined us during a Community Conversation to discuss Social-Emotional Learning at McGillis. The recorded discussion and slides can be found on the SEL Canvas page


Following are several key takeaways from the conversation. 


What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.


The CASEL framework takes a systemic approach that emphasizes the importance of establishing equitable learning environments and coordinating practices across key settings to enhance all students’ social, emotional, and academic learning.  These settings include classrooms, schools, families/caregivers, and communities; we work together to develop and support the social-emotional learning of our students.



The CASEL Framework (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) identifies 5 core social-emotional competencies:


Self Awareness:  The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.


Self-Management:  The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.


Social Awareness:  The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.  This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and support.


Relationship Skills:  The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.  This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.


Responsible Decision-Making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.  This includes the capacity to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.



How is SEL taught at McGillis?

In grades K-5, we are in our third year implementing the Toolbox Project SEL curriculum.  The foundation of Toolbox is that we all have 12 innate human capacities (i.e., the Tools) that reside within us.  Teachers provide explicit instruction on how to use the 12 Tools, and through modeling and daily classroom practice, the teachers support students in using the Tools to build self-knowledge and self-trust. Rapid improvements in communication, civility, and conflict resolution are seen within the classroom, on the playground, and across the entire school community. Parents are provided with at home activities so they too can learn the tools and incorporate the practices into the home setting.


In Middle School, all teachers participated in a yearlong training with the Institute for Social & Emotional Learning last year in order to build capacity for teaching SEL lessons as well as for incorporating SEL best practices in classroom instruction. Therefore, SEL is integrated into all classrooms and throughout the school day. Every student is assigned to a Kehilah Crew and Mentor (teacher), and is able to develop a relationship with that mentor and group of 10-12 students over the course of the year.  SEL lessons are taught weekly in Kehilah Crews and practiced every morning as we strive to foster a culture of belonging. The focus for the beginning of this year has been on relationship skills and responsible decision-making.



What can parents do to support their children with SEL?

Talk to them: No feelings are good or bad. When children are experiencing strong feelings, allow them the space to express how they are feeling. Ask them if they have any ideas about how to deal with their feelings or if they need support to find a way (tool) to help themselves. Let them know that you have confidence that they will be able to work through a strong emotion. Sometimes simply listening and reflecting back on how they are feeling can give the time and space for feelings to lessen and become manageable.

Model SEL: As parents, recognizing our own moments of growth, talking about what was a struggle and how we worked through it, being honest and showing vulnerability at appropriate moments.

Partner with teachers: Share information about what you’re seeing at home.



Join us virtually for our next Community Conversation on November 17 for a discussion on Building Resilience.