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Why social and emotional learning is a vital part of academics in Metro Schools

by Kyla Krengel, Director of Social and Emotional Learning in Metro Schools

In Metro Schools we are working hard to create engaging, safe and close-knit learning communities for students and adults. Our district's commitment to social and emotional learning (SEL) has been an anchor for our vision to create positive learning environments in all of our elementary, middle and high schools. The district's current strategic plan, Education 2018, sets SEL on equal footing with academics. We know that in order for students to succeed academically, they must succeed socially and emotionally.

We cannot assume that students come to school with all of the social and emotional tools they need to be successful in school, career and life. We recognize that creating the conditions for engaged learning and explicitly teaching SEL skills throughout the school day is important work.

For students to engage meaningfully in academic work, they need critical SEL skills like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationship skills. When a school environment doesn't feel physically or emotionally safe, learning suffers. Students in Metro Schools engage in practices like Morning Meeting, Community Gatherings, Advisory and other restorative circle practices to get to know themselves and others and to build a safe environment for learning and being in community.

Skills learned in these SEL-rich practices provide tools that carry over to every area of learning. For example, a kindergarten child may learn the art and craft of sharing and responding respectfully to classmates' questions in Morning Meeting, and then later in the day use these same skills to engage in rich academic discussions as they share text-to-self connections and wonderings during a class read-aloud. 

In middle school, students may learn how to disagree respectfully during a Community Gathering game of "Taking Sides," and then later in the day use these same skills to predict how two elements will interact during a science experiment. In high school advisory, students may share a time when they've felt unsafe or different. Then, later in the day, reconnect with these feelings as they explore issues of intolerance and bias in a Civil Rights unit.

It's hard to overlook the significant role that social and emotional learning plays in the life of schools. Whether cooperating and collaborating with a group to solve a challenging math problem or empathizing with another person's point of view during a social studies discussion or using self-calming strategies to focus and persist when faced with challenging academic work, we need social and emotional skills at every turn- students and adults. 

What does it look like and sound like when a school is fully integrating quality SEL alongside academics? There is a tone and culture of joyful engagement with learning, where students have voice and choice and are engaged in collaborative, meaningful and appropriately challenging academic work. Teachers take time to build the classroom community and value student voice, and students take an active role in managing the classroom environment. Social and emotional learning provides the tools that students need to feel safe and connected at school, whether in the cafeteria or in the biology lab.

Want to add some tools to your SEL toolbox? Consider attending this year's SEL Conference on June 19 at Cane Ridge High School. Sessions range from Mindfulness to Trauma-informed Practices to creating positive adult learning communities. The conference, hosted by Metro Schools and Alignment Nashville waive registration fees for Metro educators.