In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by teacher and teacher educator, Dana Simpson-West to discuss social-emotional learning and its importance to student success.
Get in touch with Dana: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 00:15 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:43 Exploring social emotional learning. On today’s podcast, we’re joined by Dana Simpson-West, a highly experienced teacher and teacher educator, and Dana recently was the lead designer on a course for educators titled “Social-emotional Learning, Essential to Student Success.” Dana, thanks for joining us.
Dana: 01:09 Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Steve: 01:11 Dana, for starters, would you just talk a little bit about what is it that makes social-emotional learning so important to student success?
Dana: 01:20 I think what really helps them the most is that it’s an approach from several different viewpoints. So for instance, it helps them personally because they study things about themselves. Self-Awareness, identifying their emotions, just their perceptions and self-talk, but then it also helps them academically because it goes into self-management and stress management and impulse control, all of those things help them when they’re learning. And then it also helps them professionally because they learn social skills. They talk about how to work in teams, how to communicate with each other. So it really has a multilayered approach that allows them to develop skills both personally, academically and professionally.
Steve: 02:16 I know that you were working on this project before the COVID-19 pandemic hit schools, but just as I’m listening to you, it’s sounding to me like as schools are looking to opening the school doors sometime here in the future that this is going to be an important issue for folks to be exploring.
Dana: 02:45 It definitely is because one of the compelling why’s for social emotional learning is that technology has kind of stunted the growth
of a lot of the social-emotional skills of students. And so it was originally that initiative came about so that there would be more social-emotional instruction in the classroom to help students develop those skills. And now that they’re not in the classroom and they’re having to learn virtually, it becomes, I think, even more important to kind of incorporate some of those social-emotional skills into the lessons that they’re doing so that they can also be learning some of those skills, as well as the content oriented skills.
Steve: 03:36 So, tell us some of the most critical elements that are built into the course that you designed.
Dana: 03:45 Well, the course is built on certain competencies and we started the course by using the five competencies that were developed by CASEL, which is one of the foundational organizations of social-emotional learning. And so we start with self awareness. So that gets into students, identifying their emotions, recognizing their strengths, building their self confidence and self efficacy, regulating their self talk, making sure they have an accurate self perception of themselves. Then it goes into self-management. And that’s where we talk about goal setting, stress management, organizational skills, being self-motivated self-disciplined and having impulse control. Then in our particular course, we added a competency called self care, and that deals with finding your purpose, sustaining happiness, resilience, which is really important developing that grit that Angela Duckworth talked about. And it also talks about mindfulness, which is one of the techniques teachers are studying to incorporate into the classroom to kind of calm students’ brains for learning.
Dana: 05:12 Then it goes into another CASEL competency of responsible decision making, and that involves investigating problem, solving, thinking skills, making thinking visible in the classroom, all of those types of things. And then we move from the self skills to the social skills. And so we have social awareness and that’s about embracing diversity, empathy, talking about social and ethical norms and respecting multiple perspectives on things. And we talk about relationship skills, which is another CASEL competency. And that’s about developing relationships, working as a team, communicating, staying socially engaged. And then again, we added another competency called social sensing and that’s speaks to things from a broader perspective. And so we talk about social justice and that section. We talk about social contributions and service learning, and we talk about global citizenship and serving the greater good. So we added another dimension of pushing that to a broader perspective of social awareness.
Steve: 06:34 Wow. Wow. That is a ton of of elements. I’m guessing there’s a strong interconnectedness between the pieces so that when I’m working on one, I’m working on another at the same time?
Dana: 06:48 Exactly. A lot of our courses that I design do what they call spiral learning. And so they’ll learn one thing and then it kind of spirals back to that as it focuses on the next component. So they are all kind of interconnected, one builds on the other. And it also builds on the concept that you have to know yourself first, before you can interact appropriately or knowing the self helps you interact more appropriately on a social level.
Steve: 07:22 As you’re looking for students to develop these skills, to what extent are you looking for teachers to directly teach strategies to the kids versus to what extent are the teachers engaging students in learning activities around the content of the teacher’s courses that are still providing the students the opportunity to learn these skills within the context of learning their curriculum “tested” material?
Dana: 08:01 Yeah. And I would say to that both. You know, so we encourage when they can to connect or integrate the social- emotional learning in with the curriculum content. So for instance, when they’re talking about character strengths, they can talk about the character strengths of historical figures or characters in a novel. And so, and how those compared to their personal character strengths. So there are ways to incorporate these social-emotional skills directly with the curriculum content. And then there’s other times where it might be taught as a procedural piece, like organization skills or self-management, or teaching kids, how to communicate when they’re working in groups before they work in a group so that they’re the skills that they learn. So it really is a combination of both. So I would say it’s both, and.
Steve: 09:03 So I’m guessing then for many teachers engaged in the course that you’re offering, they’re perhaps labeling things that they’ve already been doing in their classrooms as a element of social-emotional learning that perhaps they were previously just looking at as a teaching strategy without necessarily making the social emotional connection?
Dana: 09:32 Correct. You know, what we try and do throughout the course is after doing an activity that teaches a social- emotional skill, we put them in grade level groups and have them discuss, how can you use that in your classroom? Or how is that appropriate to your grade level? Where would you incorporate it into your content? And so there’s always that stop and link to the classroom so that they are applying what they’ve learned and thinking about how they’re going to actually do that when they return to the classroom. Will they need to teach it independently or can they incorporate it in with the curriculum content?
Steve: 10:14 I’m wondering Dana, if there’s a couple of examples or two that you might share that you see being specifically connected to teachers who are in a virtual mode this fall, what might they purposefully be implementing as an element of their start of the year virtually that you would see tapping into some of the social emotional needs?
Dana: 10:45 I think first, and of course, a lot of it depends on the virtual modality that they’re using. You know, if students are learning completely virtually on their own, or if that’s combined with collaborative Zoom sessions, so they get some of that social interaction. So it kind of depends on the model that the school is using, but just like we start by building a community of learners in the classroom where students get to know one another and where the teacher gets to connect with each student, I think CASEL has a thing that’s called a chat with students where it encourages teachers to call their students and have a five minute chat with them if they’re going to be instructing them virtually so that they build that, that relationship and get to know their students. But then you can also do that as a class where students get to learn about each other, know about each other, where they discuss their strengths, where they discuss their things that they struggle with and may need support doing. So I think it, especially with virtual learning, there has to be more of a conscious insertion of those social-emotional skills into what they’re doing. And I think it would make the virtual learning much less isolating or robotic by incorporating that social-emotional element into it.
Steve: 12:19 I know as I worked with teachers during these last couple of months, that was a question that was beginning to emerge in people’s minds, that the fortunate, if we can use that word, to the timing of of the schools being quarantined, teachers had already established their relationships with kids in many cases, their relationship with parents and that they could use those relationships as they went into the virtual. Now we’re looking at at August startup of some schools virtually. I’ve got kids meeting their teacher for the first time, teachers trying to plan parent orientation for kindergarten kids. And some of those schools, I’ve got new colleagues who are going to meet the principal and their colleagues on the teaching staff virtually for the first time. So it seems there’s a lot of us have got to kind of have in the back of our mind, how we purposely build these personalization pieces in.
Dana: 13:23 Exactly and purposefully as the key word there. I think it has to be brought into the spotlight, but also be brought in meaningful ways that aren’t just tacked on there.
Steve: 13:36 Yeah. It’s kind of like you there’s times where you’ve been engaged in a team building activities and whatever people were doing seemed to trump that people were talking and listening. So talking and listening was really the reason you were doing this silly activity, but some people got so engaged in the activity that they miss the talking and learning about each other coming out the other end.
Dana: 14:05 Exactly.
Steve: 14:06 I’m wondering as I was listening to the list of skills, I’m wondering to what extent do teachers need to be assessing and building their own social-emotional skills in order to play the roles that we’re that we’re asking them to play for their students?
Dana: 14:30 Yes. I think that’s paramount because obviously they need to be able to model the skills they’re teaching and trying to develop in their students. And so one of the good things about this course is it’s very experiential and hands-on and interactive. And so the do the same activities that they’re then going to do with their students. So for example, one of the activities they do is they create a, what we call a mega moments map in which they map out the mega moments of their lives. And then they use that map in the section where they identify emotions. Like, what emotions did you experience during those mega moments and we use it for them to also talk about their character strengths. Like, what character strengths were developed during those mega moments, or what did you learn? What were the lessons learned? And so as teachers do that activity, they learn a lot about themselves, but then they also get to experience what the students are going to go through and learn when they have their students do that same activity. So it becomes kind of a double learning experience for the educator that’s going through the activities. Because they learn about themselves and they learn about – or they get a real world idea of what it’s gonna look like for their students to go through that activity.
Steve: 16:02 Dana is your course designed to be a deliverable in a virtual system?
Dana: 16:12 You know, we’re going to find that out. There’s some that would say that, you know, social, emotional learning virtually is kind of an oxymoron, but I think there are a lot of things, especially the self-awareness pieces, which tend to be more personally reflective that would definitely lend themselves to virtual learning. And then as you get into more of the social skills, you might have to try and bring in Zoom or some of those things where students can interact and discuss as a group or practice their communication skills with one another. So I think there are ways to do it virtually. It just has to be a little bit more purposeful in how you do it, in how you deliver it.
Steve: 17:00 I’m striking that that’s gonna be our key word all the way around, purposeful. Much more pre-thought. I mean, I’m discovering in my own work, I just finished a keynote before I got on the call with you as a keynote on a virtual conference. But having to plan the questions that I’m putting out to people to respond back to in a chat to each other back to me – much more purposeful planning than if I was actually standing up in front of a room full of people. I could be I could be reading off the audience and making those spur on the spot decisions. It’s much more purposefulness within my mindset now.
Dana: 17:57 Exactly. You know, when you’re doing it in person in a classroom or in a conference, you know, they turn and talk and you’ll even over hear some things that they might be talking about that you can then bring into your debrief. And so virtually, sometimes you miss pieces of that.
Steve: 18:15 So you have to purposefully look for a way to seek it or pull it from the from the participants. It’s very interesting, my wife is currently taking a graduate level counseling class and just last night – it’s all it’s all virtual. They have a two hour a Zoom session each day. But I guess yesterday they were about their fifth day into the class perhaps, but the instructor decided yesterday to start with a wellbeing check in with each individual around the room that went quite a while. But it did lead to people then responding to other people. You know, I mean, somebody who said something and people came on and said, “oh, I just, I need to reach out and give you a hug from here over the..” But you could just sense that people were getting closer and closer connected. And that again was a very purposeful step on the part of the instructor to see about making that making that happen.
Dana: 19:20 Yes. And you bring up a really good point there about sometimes, those social-emotional pieces are time eaters and that as people get to talking, you know, they’ll really get into some meaningful discussions, but those discussions can also take a lot of time. So it’s important that the teacher kind of plan for and use enough time to accomplish those things.
Steve: 19:46 And I think if I got this straight from my wife, the instructor read the need to do it by the individuals’ emails and comments to the instructor. In other words, she read a tension and a discomfort in the group and she purposefully used this as a strategy to deal with the social-emotional side of people dealing with difficult content and having to work hard in difficult situations. It kind of sets a pretty good example for what we what we all need to be thinking at this time.
Dana: 20:26 Yeah. It shows like in the classroom, you know, you have that support system. But when you’re learning virtually, sometimes that support system is a little bit more invisible unless you consciously bring it in.
Steve: 20:40 So Dana, I’m wondering if you can close us out here with a with a walk away. You know, if you’ve got a chance to do that elevator ride with a teacher, what might a teacher who’s engaged in your course look to to have as his or her own take away from it?
Dana: 21:01 I think one of the selling points of the course is that double learning. You know, they’re going to learn a lot about themselves and their own social-emotional skills. And at the same time, they’re going to get very practical classroom, applicable strategies that they can that they can go back and employ right away. And so it is a double learning experience. Even in the course, the course starts with a self assessment of their own personal and professional, social-emotional skills. And so that’s built in throughout for it to be both a self growth experience and a professional growth experience. And I think also that plus that they get all of those ready-made activities already developed and ready to plug in is a time saver for them.
Steve: 22:01 Great. Great. I know that’s a big one on all teacher’s agenda.
Dana: 22:06 Yeah. Why reinvent the wheel, right?
Steve: 22:09 Well, Dana, thanks for so much for joining us on the podcast. We will put a link to your course into the lead-in to this to the podcast. And if it’s okay with you, we’ll stick your email address there as well. So if people have a question they can contact you directly.
Dana: 22:29 All right. Sounds great. Thanks very much.
Steve: 22:31 Alright, thanks for joining us. Bye bye.
Steve: 22:33 Thank you. Bye bye.
Steve [Outro]: 22:35 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.