As district and school buildings strive to meet goals, professional development and learning tend to be a common approach to closing the gap between reality and a desired state. As social emotional learning gains increasing attention, districts and buildings look to bring in resources to support both adults' and students' SEL skill sets.
However, it is incredibly important to the sustainability and impact of this work that staff members feel like they are supported through continuous professional development and learning opportunities. While research tends to focus on effective components for professional learning, coaching models present an opportunity to include these components in an ongoing manner for an individual or team. In fact, according to Elena Aguilar (2013), a prominent author of transformational coaching techniques:
Coaching can build will, skill, knowledge, and capacity because it can go where no other professional development has gone before: into the intellect, behaviors, practices, beliefs, values, and feelings of an educator.
Given the potential of coaching in professional practice, it is worth looking into how coaching might be used to support SEL efforts across districts and within school buildings. Below are suggestions on how to capitalize on coaching opportunities at two levels:
1. Individual Coaching
Administrators and instructional coaches meet individually with educators one-on-one often. Whether it be for observation-feedback cycles or planning support, these meetings have a ton of potential for supporting educators with infusing SEL practices into their classrooms. One way to accomplish this is by utilizing any current student SEL data. Whether it is from a Skills platform or anecdotal data collected by school members. Starting meetings by grounding in data can be powerful. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) provides a Data Reflection Protocol that can be modified to support one-on-one conversations with educators. By using a protocol like this, conversations can be tailored to highlight classroom strengths and opportunities for supporting student SEL growth. For example, if through this analysis, that coach and teacher discover that a 1st-period class seems to be struggling with Self-Awareness, then they can then begin planning on some universal SEL instruction that helps build that skill with the whole class.
Another way to support SEL coaching with an individual is by exploring opportunities to infuse SEL into the lesson planning process. Coaches or administrators may ask teachers to pull up an upcoming or previous lesson plan. An easy entry point might be to analyze how the teacher begins their class. How might they integrate a welcome ritual at the start of every day that focuses on establishing and maintaining positive relationships in that classroom? Or, how might they integrate an optimistic closure at the end of that class period to wrap up and end on a high note? This could lead to a unifying lesson plan template or approach that automatically includes these components. These are simple techniques that can lay the foundation for complex integration efforts such as small group SEL intervention in any classroom, regardless of content.
Read more: What are the three SEL signature practices?
2. Team Coaching
A variety of teaming structures exists in school buildings. Some buildings have professional learning communities (PLCs) that often bring together educators who teach the same content to work on developing their content pedagogy. Additionally, some buildings have grade-level or MTSS/RTI teams that include teachers who teach the same group of students. This is likely to include teachers who teach a variety of different content areas.
One way to approach coaching with teams is just like coaching an individual. Begin with data. CASEL’s Data Reflection Protocol can also be modified to address a smaller group setting. However, this analysis might include grade-level trend analysis. For example, what might the team see when they look at data for their 7th-grade or 9th-grade students? What are their strengths and areas for growth? This data can then be used to plan a cohesive and systematic approach to addressing skill gaps. Perhaps the groups decide that during 1st period or advisory, they will do a 6-8 week cycle that focuses on self-management because they noticed that their 9th graders are struggling in this area. The team can then come back together after that cycle and evaluate their efforts.
Just like analyzing lesson plan opportunities with individual teachers, coaches and administrators can ask teams to analyze and evaluate common classroom routines and practices. For example, through this discussion, teams may realize that they all do some kind of “warm-up” activity. This could be the perfect opportunity to agree on some common SEL work with students. Teams can use SEL data for their grade level or classrooms and discuss common welcome rituals that everyone is comfortable using with students. In addition to strengthening relationships, this kind of established routine supports student regulation as they know what to expect each day they come into a classroom. Furthermore, as with the individual, teams can then come back after trying this on and evaluate the impact this has on students through the use of assessment tools.
Coaching has incredible potential to be a source of ongoing, continuous professional learning for individuals and teams. Resources exist that help guide teams through data discussions around SEL and ways to incorporate it into classroom practices. This kind of work provides an entry point for all staff members regardless of their comfort with infusing SEL into their classroom. These practices also deepen educators’ understanding of SEL topics. Using these simple, easy approaches can lead to much larger scale efforts and targeted support for students around SEL skills as teachers build a foundation in their classroom for SEL practices.
Aguilar, E. (2013, March 25). How coaching can impact teachers, principals, and students. Edutopia. Read it here.
CASEL. SEL Data Reflection Protocol. Read it here.
CASEL. SEL Framework. Read it here.
EdSurge. 2019. Why Social Emotional Learning Is Suddenly In The Spotlight. Read it here.
Learning Policy Institute. 2017. Effective Teacher Professional Development Report. Read it here.