The Social Emotional Learning and Trauma Sensitive School Connection
It is important to use trauma-informed practices with all children and provide universal, trauma-informed supports throughout schools and classrooms. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is key for ensuring this happens.
In our Building Resilience virtual workshop series Ricky Robertson led participates through an intentional professional learning sequence on educator self-care, understanding behavior as a form of communication and trauma informed social emotional practices to support our return to school.
Ricky Robertson, from Corwin, is an educator, author, and consultant who has worked with alternative and traditional schools, serving students from grades preK-12 within urban, suburban, and semi-rural communities. He provides coaching, consultation, and multi-day professional development workshops to build systems of support for students impacted by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma, and the educators who work with them. He has a background in Restorative Justice/ Practices, culturally responsive teaching, LGBTQ+ student advocacy, and trauma-informed practices for teaching and behavior management.
SEL is implemented with an explicit goal of promoting educational equity.
School Support and Improvement and CASEL share the belief that:
SEL is relevant for all students in all schools and affirms diverse cultures and backgrounds. All students bring to school their identities, strengths, values, lived experiences, and culture. SEL does not seek to have students conform to the values and preferences of the dominant culture but uplifts and promotes understanding of the assets of diverse individuals and communities.
What it looks like: Schools use SEL as a framework to examine the importance of the range of adult and student identities and assets, reflect on and appreciate diversity, and foster an inclusive environment. Schools adopt evidence-based programs that are culturally-affirming and relevant to their communities and needs.
SEL is a strategy for systemic improvement, not just an intervention for at-risk students.While SEL reduces risky behaviors and improves mental health (Taylor et al, 2017), the impact is maximized when systemic SEL becomes a coordinating framework that transforms all aspects of schooling — from how staff collaborate to how classroom instruction is delivered.
What it looks like: Systemic implementation fosters schoolwide conditions that promote social and emotional growth for all students, including opportunities to build trusting relationships, welcoming learning environments, consistent routines, engaging teaching strategies, culturally-relevant practices and authentic family and community partnerships.
SEL is a way to uplift student voice and promote agency and civic engagement. The goal of SEL is to build skills and competencies that help students successfully navigate and meaningfully contribute to their schools, careers, families, relationships, and multicultural communities. This occurs when SEL goes beyond behavior management and positions young people “as experts in understanding and fashioning a world that is more just and equitable” (Jagers, 2016, p. 3).
What it looks like: All students have developmentally-appropriate opportunities to engage in discussions with each other, raise problems and identify solutions in their schools and communities, productively challenge the inequities that they see, have a voice in how the classroom and school operate, and take on authentic leadership roles.
SEL supports adults to strengthen practices that promote equity. SEL also offers a way for adults to examine how their own social and emotional competencies and the policies and practices that they put in place may impact equity, and acknowledge and address the larger impact that systemic and individual bias, racism or oppression may have on the lives of their students.
What it looks like: Adults reflect on their own identities, assets and biases, and engage in culturally-relevant practices and conversations around equity. School teams examine disaggregated data, analyze root causes of disparities, and engage various stakeholders to co-develop policies and practices that support equity.
Schools must engage students, families, and communities as authentic partners in social and emotional development. The relationships between school staff, students, families, and communities are at the core of systemic SEL. In order for SEL to affirm the assets of children from diverse backgrounds, schools need to understand the cultures, lived experiences, and values of families and communities, and all students need to feel ownership over their own social and emotional development.
What it looks like: Students, families and community partners are active partners in the planning and implementation of schoolwide SEL and are represented on the SEL team. All students, families, and community partners have frequent opportunities to share their perspectives and feedback.
Adult SEL Skills Are Directly Tied to Our Ability to Be Trauma Sensitive
Adults Need Social-Emotional Competencies:
to be able to foster a safe environment so that children feel supported and can thrive
to be able to recognize when someone is experiencing an emotion or not feeling safe
to have and use good listening skills and understand other perspectives, to see as best they can through the child’s eyes
to approach children with empathy and understanding, validating feelings and behavior, and build relationships
to build social-emotional competencies for students to empower all who are affected by adversity and help them cope with the trauma
Supporting Student SEL in a Trauma-Sensitive School:
helps children survive and cope in various situations
allows children to increase their ability to identify, express, and manage emotions
teaches children to connect their actions to their thoughts and feelings by noticing feelings and physical sensations in their bodies, such as heat (embarrassment, shame), pressure (stress), tingling, muscular tension (anger, nervousness)
teaches children to safely express their feelings in healthy ways
teaches children coping strategies for managing their feelings
A trauma-sensitive environment helps ensure all children will cultivate healthy behaviors and have opportunities to thrive in the face of difficulties and hardships.