May 16th, 2020

Relationships and Connectedness are Critical

In 2018, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and New Teacher Center conducted a study on educator emotions in the workplace. We asked questions regarding school culture and climate and health indicators (diet, exercise, sleep, depression, alcohol/drug use, etc.). We learned the top 3 emotions in spring 2018 were overwhelm, stress, and frustration. However, we also learned that connected, positive relationships among teachers, with administrators, and with and among students, served a protective factor for educator's overall health and wellbeing.

In spring 2020, Yale CEI conducted a similar survey, and learned that anxiety, stress, and worry, and fear were the top emotions for educators. Since we know that relationships are a protective factor for health and wellbeing, we need to consider how to foster relationships in our future-forward planning.

As districts moved to distance learning, I heard from many teachers with whom I work that what they miss the most are their colleagues--the casual conversations in the hallways, laughter, after school get-togethers, and the varied ways educators naturally support one another. Online staff meetings most certainly take care of business at hand, yet relationships and connectedness seem to be left up to individual teachers--even in contexts where district and school leaders had been regularly attending to the SEL needs of their staff. Yet, now, more than ever, it’s critical to cultivate relationships among staff members and with administrators.

In a recent PDK survey of Educators Rising high school students, the same request held true. Students WANT to be connected to their peers and teachers and they want social and emotional supports--especially to deal with anxiety, fear, and lack of motivation. They want interactions that are both structured and supportive to their individual and class needs as well guidance and practice in how to move from using distractions--listening to music, watching tv, doing hobbies--to more self-care activities and emotional regulation strategies that will cultivate resilience, mental-physical-emotional health and wellbeing during these uncertain times.

As we deliberate on how to reconfigure schooling in the fall, most likely using blended-learning, staggered times, distancing is critical to also address our human need for connection and supportive relationships with peers, diverse groups, teachers, and counselors in ways that meet students' academic, emotional, and social needs and that strengthen SEL skills that foster resilience, motivation, and ensure our overall health and wellbeing.

Tags: Adult SEL, Climate and culture, Mental health, SEL & Remote learning, SEL Leadership, SEL Research

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Comments (3)

Comments (3)

Hi Wendy:
Thanks for joining our conversation and for adding those valuable resources. When you think about how to reconfigure schooling in the fall, what ideas do you have for making SEL a key component of the new normal in education for students as well as educators?

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Comment deleted by user.

Hi Cindy,
Thanks for the follow-up question. I was thinking we need a short-range plan to make SEL a key component in for schooling in the fall, and a long-range plan to prepare all educators (leaders, teachers, and support staff) to implement SEL as an integrated part of teaching and learning.

Mai Xi's mentioned the need to identify a common SEL framework. I agree and hope we can adopt the CASEL 5 competencies as a state. We already have CA SEL Guiding principles—equity, whole child education, building capacity, partnering with families and communities, and being in continuous learning and improvement cycles.

Although, we have developed common frameworks, language, and expertise in planning, teaching, and assessing for academic development, we don't have the same for SEL.

Making SEL an integral part of schooling is complicated. It's different than learning and teaching in a content area. One of the main differences is that the adults need to develop their own social-emotional competencies first, and then model, teach, and cultivate those competencies in other adults who will then teach them to students. SEL is about human development—which is messy! As Mai Xi mentioned, we cannot ignore racism and social injustices that exist is our schools and communities. Adults need the highest level of communication skills and willingness to understand diverse perspectives to address highly charged issues. SEL is about being culturally responsive, it’s about being compassionate and empathetic--motivating us to support the diverse learning needs of all our students, and it’s about creating learning environments with healthy, positive, connected relationships so everyone belongs and everyone thrives.

So…how do we get there?

Let’s first acknowledge our tendency as educators to buy programs as a solution to a problem. We heard loudly and clearly in our Yale CEI-NTC study of 7,000 educators, that frustration and overwhelm--2 emotions felt most often at school-- were caused by too many programs and initiatives, not enough time to learn how to implement them effectively, or figure out how they programs could be integrated. SEL becomes “one more thing.” This is not a systems-approach.

Ultimately, we need a system in CA to prepare educators, from pre-service through induction and throughout one’s career in what we truly mean by whole child education in a “new normal.” We need parallel systems to prepare school, district, county, regional, and state leaders—during the Administrative Services credential program, through Tier 2, and ongoingly through the career of the leader.

So, what might we do this fall…how can we make SEL a key component when we return in the fall? I think focusing on a coordinated effort to design and facilitate an ongoing statewide professional learning series--Community of Practices (CoPs) for leaders of teacher and administrative credentialing programs, Tier 2 Mentoring/Coaching programs (e.g., BTSA and ACSA), county-office, district, and site leaders, would maximize our efforts in the short term.

If we focus on all the leaders, we can change the entire system. If education leaders throughout the state got firsthand experience of SEL integrated within the context of a CoP that focused on” leading in times of a new normal” that started in Aug., we could ensure SEL is a key component in the fall.

The teams designing and facilitating the CoPs would, of course, use distance-learning practices would expand the leaders’ capacity to lead effectively using distance-learning strategies with their staff(s)—another impactful outcome.

This could be the best time to unite statewide, in a coordinated, aligned effort, preparing our leaders to meet our students’ sure-to-be diverse academic, behavioral, and SEL needs in the fall, and to be ready to support the adults, as well.

Relationships are a protective factor for our overall health and wellbeing. Educators in communities where is trust, support, and respect for one another are more resilient and inspired. Now, more than ever, our leaders, statewide, need our support.