Addressing SEL and Behavior Challenges with Relationships

One question that is posed to me often by districts and schools is how their staff can be proactive when it comes to student behavior and addressing their social-emotional needs. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the pandemic, in the eyes of many, has led to an uptick in issues that not only disrupts precious learning time but also results in more discipline referrals, tardies, and absences. There is no silver bullet as many behavioral challenges manifest themselves outside the school day. However, practical mitigation steps can be taken by doing what we all know is of utmost importance to learning and that is developing relationships, something a dive into great detail in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms

So, where do we begin? It is essential to realize how vital social-emotional learning (SEL) is when it comes to student behavior and academic success. A meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students showed promising results. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement (Durlak et al., 2011). 

At the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE), we developed a relationships model in partnership with Dr. Stephanie Jones at the Harvard EASEL Lab that we utilize with administrators and teachers to create vibrant learning cultures. As this model shows, the impact of rigorous and relevant teaching and learning relies on strong student-educator relationships. The way to shape these relationships is through purposeful behaviors tied to three key indicators: Connection, Compassion, and Vulnerability. When you reflect on this above, consider what current practices support the main elements listed. In a past post, I outlined some specific SEL strategies that can be used at any time to aid in the process of addressing SEL needs and behavior, including daily meeting, digital surveys, and family engagement.

While there is a wealth of resources out there, I would be remiss if I didn’t outline some practices that can be employed regularly. For each, I attempt to highlight the clear benefits. 

  • Classroom Management: Co-create rules and consequences with students. Acknowledge positive behaviors regularly. Admin should look to work daily meetings into the schedule as a way to help teachers with management issues. 
  • Relevance: There is a great deal of research out there on the importance of relevance in the classroom and school, which you can read HERE. Students want purpose in their learning. Integrate interdisciplinary connections, authentic contexts, and real-world applications regularly to help convey meaning.
  • Personalized Pedagogy: Moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to equitable strategies can seamlessly align with RTI/MTSS, which are designed to address behavior proactively. Consider station rotation, choice activities, playlists, and flipped lessons to free up time to work with students who really need in-class support.
  • Empathy: Using an empathetic lens by placing yourself in your students' shoes can help reduce kneejerk reactions. It is always important to remember that forces beyond our control impact kids.

Additionally, two of my ICLE colleagues had some incredible content for districts, schools, and educators to leverage immediately. Adam Drummond shared a comprehensive article on developing relationships by leading through compassion, embracing vulnerability, and making connections. You will not only find applicable relationship-building strategies here but also an array of visuals to focus on areas of growth. Venola Mason explains that supporting students’ social and emotional wellness is a catalyst for building strong teacher-student relationships that can ensure they are better adjusted, have more confidence, and perform better academically. In a recent article, she details five tips to assist with this process:

  1. Be personable with students
  2. Get to know students
  3. Set stretch goals
  4. Make learning fun
  5. Reach out to students in need

Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real learning occurs. 

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D. and Schellinger, K.B. (2011), The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82: 405-432.