SEL encourages ‘community circles’

By Paige Nash

According to Ursula Hullaby who serves as the Safe and Drug-free Schools and Communities Coordinator in Webster Parish, all Webster Parish students in grades K-8 are now encouraged to spend the first 15 minutes of every morning in “community circles.” 

“We do a lot of community circles with our K-8 grades. They are able to converse with each other and in these conversations, they are growing and learning how to respect each other and listen to each other. These groups are facilitated by the teacher, but they are really student led,” said Hullaby. 

This is one way the schools are attempting to implement the concept of Social and Emotional Learning. With this “new” concept comes a new acronym, SEL.  

It is being described as an “innovative” approach to equipping students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and the ability to achieve personal and collective goals. One of the goals is to teach them to feel and show empathy towards their fellow classmates and make responsible and caring decisions.  

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has outlined five core SEL components or skills. They are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Most parents and school staff would agree that these are all great skills to equip our children and students with. Research has shown that students perform better academically when their emotional needs are met and the same can be said for adults in the workforce. 

These types of programs have been integrated into school curriculums for decades. In the late 90s and early 2000s one of the more popular self-esteem programs followed the life of a dolphin named Duso. 

So, what is the problem? Just like SEL’s counterparts and all the acronyms that came before, it will most likely end up phasing out in the same fashion. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) was the trend prior to this newly established framework and is similar as far as their premises. Although they may take different approaches on implementation, they are both centered on the link between emotional/social development and academic/life success.  

When asking an adult, no matter their age, who their favorite teacher was in school and why, most of the time it has nothing to do with academics, and more to do with how that teacher made them feel. This goes to prove that teachers have been “SEL” advocates since way before it became a trendy acronym.  

The problem is this scripted SEL program should not only be implemented for a set 15 minutes out of each school day or during a certain “block.” It should be the focus point for each teacher throughout the day, responding to the social and emotional cues of the individual student continuously. The needs will be just as unique as the student. SEL is central to a great student/teacher relationship, the classroom environment and parental involvement. This is nothing new. It just has a new name, a new acronym, and a new way for corporations to capitalize on the trend until the next one comes along.  

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