Whether embedding social emotional learning (SEL) into your curriculum or just integrating SEL strategies into classroom activities, there are three signature practices, as defined by CASEL, that you should know about. These SEL signature practices are:
- Welcoming activities and routines
- Engaging strategies
- Optimistic closures
This blog aims to discuss what each of these signature practices entails, why they’re important, and how you can follow them in your classroom.
Learn more about embedding SEL: Embedding school-wide SEL
Why they’re important
The first SEL signature strategy is to implement welcoming activities and routines. These are important for classrooms and both students because it’s important for them to have a designated start to the lesson. This is true regardless of whether students are entering your classroom halfway through their daily schedule, starting their school day off with you, or switching from one activity to another. By helping students make that transition, they can switch from one ‘mental mode’, say for example from a creative mindset in art class to a more scientific one in math.
Additionally, you never know what your students were going through or feeling prior to entering your classroom. For example, if an ACE student is entering your classroom first thing on a Monday, they could have been dealing with difficult, intense situations at home over the weekend. Furthermore, if a student is coming to your class from their least favorite lesson, one in which they may get easily emotional and display problematic behavior by acting out, they may need this welcoming activity to wound down.
In short, welcoming strategies at the start of lessons help students move past whatever they were feeling beforehand and help set the tone for the lesson.
One welcoming strategy that Ashley, our expert educator and SEL whizz, loves to use is to choose a way for students to enter a classroom or group setting and use that as a ‘norm’ throughout the school year.
“When teachers stand at their classroom door to greet their students, this can be really powerful. Equally, check-in stations are just as effective at welcoming students into your class and starting the lesson off on a friendly note.”
Greeting students at the classroom door or implementing check-in stations are ideal for all age groups and developmental levels. To make these strategies even more powerful and welcoming to each student, have each student choose a particular way they’d like to be greeted. They could choose between options such as a high-five, wave, or thumbs up. This is also a great way to check students’ self-awareness (are they finding it easy or difficult to advocate for their own physical boundaries?) and monitor it throughout the year (does their preference change over time, for example, did they start off wanting a thumbs up greeting but are now comfortable and happy to high five?).
For teachers with the same students for different lessons in the same classroom, these welcoming strategies can be repeated in between each lesson, providing there is enough time. For example, if you’ve just finished math and are ready to switch to ELA, you could play a short snippet of music or a particular sound, perform a readiness for learning check, or have a call and response between yourself and the teacher.
Check out this TikTok from Ashley on readiness for learning checks:
Why they're important
There are plenty of SEL strategies out there, but choosing one (or creating one) that’s suitable for your classroom takes time, especially for those who welcome different groups of students throughout the day. But finding the ideal strategies for your classroom is important because this is what will make them engaging and therefore more effective. Find out what your classroom’s unique culture is and expand on that. Using the same strategies year after year may work for some classrooms, but often times this is not the case because each year has different needs and brings a different group dynamic. And don’t forget - don’t concentrate on what other classes or teachers are doing, because if it works for you and your class, then that’s the best way forward.
One of the best strategies that keep students engaged is to stay up-to-date on what is happening to and around your students inside and outside the classroom. Even if these things are beyond your control, trying to find out what your students are experiencing can help you tailor your in-class strategies to their needs and interests. For example, you could always make references to TV shows, films, games, or music that you know your students love. Plus, this will not only help keep everyone engaged but also could improve your relationship with them!
Why they're important
You made the effort to start on a good note, now finish on one, too! This will encourage your students to feel a sense of closure after your class or activity and be ready to move on to the next one. Optimistic closures highlight what students did well during the class, what the main takeaways from the class were, and how they tie in with other learning practices. Ending the lesson on a positive note will also help students associate your lessons with positive memories, meaning they’re more likely to be excited about returning to your class.
Ending the lesson on a positive note will also help students associate your lessons with positive memories, meaning they’re more likely to be excited about returning to your class.
One example of a great optimistic closure strategy is to use exit tickets. This means that as your students leave the question, you ask them one question they have to try and answer before they go. For example, if you discussed the life of Abraham Lincoln in your history class, ask students questions such as what year he was born or whether he was the 15th or 16th US president.
Exit tickets can also be more general. For example, ask your students to tell you about one thing they learned in this lesson or what their favorite part was. Or ask them to rate their level of understanding of the subject matter prior to the lesson, and what they feel that level is now. This could also be done but regarding their emotions instead of their subject knowledge. These are great strategies not only for ending the lesson on a positive note but also for promoting self-awareness since they encourage young learners to check in with themselves.
The three CASEL social emotional learning signature practices are 1) a welcoming activity; 2) engaging strategies; 3) an optimistic closure. They’re important because they set the tone for the class, help students engage with the lesson being taught and become more receptive to learning, and help end the class on a good note.
Watch this to learn more on the 3 SEL practices: Powerful strategies for embedding SEL across the curriculum
CASEL. 2019. The SEL 3 Signature Practices Playbook. Read it here.