Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a critical part of students’ educational experience in my classroom. It’s the process through which they learn how to manage their emotions, build positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to ensure that students have the necessary skills to succeed in all areas of their lives, and SEL is a crucial component of this. When students feel safe, supported, and understood, they’re more likely to engage in learning and to achieve their goals.
I incorporate SEL into our daily classroom routines and lesson plans by creating a positive and supportive classroom environment through technology integration and using mindfulness exercises. Here are some of my strategies.
Students enter the classroom and, using Google Forms, fill out a daily bell ringer, which contains a daily “How are you?” question. They select an emoji from the choices to express how they’re feeling that day. I can quickly open up another tab to see individual student responses as well as those of the entire class, so that these daily emoji checks give me a quick temperature reading on how my students are doing individually as well as collectively.
Consulting the data, I can quickly decide if our class needs a moment of silence or a brain-break video or if students are ready to start. It’s important to provide students with opportunities to articulate their emotions, and I’ve found that emojis work really well with middle school students. And those students who may be uncomfortable sharing their feelings with the entire class have the same opportunity to express their feelings if they choose to.
There’s also an optional open-ended response that lets students tell me anything else if needed. Sometimes students will articulate that they’re doing great or need additional support. This allows me to get to know my students on a deeper level and makes me cognizant of their mood for that day.
Templates can help my students gain coping skills, resilience, emotional awareness, and empathy. There are a few slide templates on Pear Deck that I use on a daily basis: Stress Check; What Is Filling Your Bucket?; Give a Thank You to Someone in Your Class; and A Moment of Silence. Students who may be uncomfortable saying out loud how they’re feeling can answer these from the comfort of their screen.
It’s also very important to provide a safe space for students to connect with me and let me know how I can better support them moving forward. For example, when students enter the classroom, we have a moment of silence to help them refocus in the event they’re having a stressful day at school. Also, What Is Filling Your Bucket? helps students articulate what’s going well for them and hopefully instills a sense of gratitude. In contrast, with this strategy students also can express what areas of their life may be draining for them and appropriately identify them rather than bottling up these emotions all day long.
Articulating gratitude to peers is another area that I want to help my students develop when it comes to their own SEL. Students can type a “Thank you” to someone in the class who has been a good friend, has helped them in one of their classes, or was nice. I’ve seen the faces of those who receive a compliment light up, and I find this practice particularly helpful. We do the gratitude tribute about once a week, so students have had some time to reflect and to participate. I usually integrate these templates after the warm-up, and they take about five minutes to complete.
Another one of my favorite edtech tools to integrate in my middle school classroom is Quizizz. I find it important to have multiple ways for my students to check in with me, as it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, I use the open-ended response as well as a recording feature response for students’ daily check-ins. This is different from other digital options because it provides opportunities for students to talk to me and leave me a private audio or written message if they feel comfortable.
The two simple prompts I always use are How are you feeling today? and Is there anything else you want to share with me? These questions are great conversation starters and provide another opportunity for students to practice their own SEL skills in a tangible way.
Providing a space for students to talk to me helps them articulate their feelings out loud if they choose to. Through these submitted responses, I’m able to follow up if needed and better serve my students based on their feedback. If necessary, I can also refer them to our school or mental health counselor. These activities can be completed at the beginning or ending of the class.
I also use GoNoodle, which is a free website that provides educators with mindfulness and brain break videos. The mindfulness exercises are especially beneficial when we need a breather in the classroom. I can tell by the looks on students’ faces when it’s time for a reset. There are videos that range from yoga and deep-breathing exercises to silly dance videos. Depending on the need, I tailor the choice of video to the class and what may benefit us all collectively.
It’s important to remember that some students thrive with movement exercises, and others may not feel as comfortable. I usually incorporate these videos halfway through a lesson or after recess for a reset. They’re also a great idea when there’s inclement weather. The videos can take anywhere from one to six minutes, depending on the selection.
For my morning meeting templates I use Lumio. The templates include the current date, the word of the day, an affirmation of the day, and a quick writing prompt. Completing these morning exercises helps build our classroom community. These activities usually take about five minutes, and we complete them at the beginning of our class. It’s important to take time at the beginning of class to start off on the right foot. This sets the tone for the rest of the day, and if some students have had a rough morning, the routines help bring consistency.
After students have had time to respond, we share our responses as a class. This helps students to feel part of the class and begins building our empathy for others. It’s also great practice for students to work on their active listening skills. I usually do these morning meeting activities on Monday, hoping to set the tone for the week on a positive note.
By prioritizing SEL in my classroom, I can help students develop the skills they need to thrive both academically and personally. It’s my duty as an educator to ensure that my learners are prepared for success. Integrating technology into my middle school classroom can have a positive impact on my students’ social and emotional learning.