SEL Day: The Importance of SEL in Education

Working in the public education system for over a decade has provided me with many opportunities for reflection and insight into how we can support our young people and families who have the highest needs. Our communities face so many obstacles outside of the classroom such as homelessness, food insecurity, and community violence, that when students arrive on campus we can’t always see the stress and trauma they carry with them. When I was first introduced to the concept of Social Emotional Learning in 2014, I quickly absorbed all the information I could. I thought “Finally! Here is the language I’ve been looking for for how I wish to approach working with our young people” While I feel I have always come from a SEL mindset, I didn’t necessarily have the words and research to describe it or back it up when explaining it to others.

At an org wide training our PBIS Coach introduced us to a TedTalk by Rita Pierson, a lifelong educator, called Every Kid Needs A Champion. She said “ Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like” and it reinforced even more in me that we must connect with our young people to create spaces where they feel empowered, valued, safe and understood. It’s then from this point we can work with them to follow the directions given, focus, learn and achieve academically. 

In my education career I’ve worked with foster youth, homeless youth, and youth involved in gangs. There were times I thought how would I respond as a child if I was experiencing these life altering events. If I felt no one understood me, or knew where I was coming from. I probably wouldn’t feel safe, seen or heard and therefore I wouldn’t be invested in those individuals and what they had to say. From what young people have told me, it’s a fairly isolating experience.   

As educators we must take stock and understand that we have the power to create safe spaces and opportunities for connection and ultimately academic success for our young people. Social Emotional Learning eventually became the cornerstone of how I interacted with the young people I worked with. Building programs that were centered in empathy and compassion as well as community building and collaboration to create positive relationships between peers as well as between students and adults. My dream is that one day all of our schools will prioritize the mental and emotional well being of our young people and their families and provide safe spaces where students can thrive. Where we don’t look at consequences through a punitive lens but a restorative one. 

This same dream is what brought me to Mindful Life Project. MLP’s goal is to equip students, teachers and families with the knowledge and skills to address stressors and challenges such as trauma through mindfulness. Teaching these tools to our communities empowers them to respond, rather than react, in times of adversity throughout their lives. And while I could go on about the science behind the benefits of incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives, for me, it was so impactful to hear from students who were quick to react, fight or be destructive that they felt calm and at peace for the first time. That in moments of adversity they called upon their mindfulness practice to calm themselves, was all I needed to hear to know this was a program worth incorporating into my student’s lives and our school’s culture and climate to create the lasting impacts we were looking to make. 

As we celebrate national SEL Day as an educator we can ask ourselves:

  1. How has or how can SEL programs help my community?
  2. What social emotional learning skills would I like to work on?
  3. What SEL activities would you like to incorporate into your classroom or home?

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