Setting School Culture With Social And Emotional Learning Routines

First graders at Highlander Charter School meet first thing every day to greet each other and build community. (Edutopia)

Over the past several decades public education has shifted to focus on literacy and math learning, largely due to high stakes tests measuring those two elements of school. But educators have long known that while reading, writing and math are important to academic success, they are far from the only qualities students need to go forth and lead productive lives.

In recent years, the pendulum of education trends have swung back to emphasize the importance of relationships to learning. Schools are using social and emotional learning curricula to help students develop interpersonal skills and learn ways to solve problems peacefully. But there’s still debate around which social and emotional skills are the most important to teach — such as empathy, executive functioning or persistence — and some educators feel unprepared to take on a role that seems more like parenting.

In a video series called “Schools That Work,” Edutopia offers some examples of social and emotional learning routines that successful schools use. At Highlander Charter School in Rhode Island, elementary school students talk about the importance of morning meeting to their day.

“It puts me in a focused and good mood,” said Monica, a third grader at the school. Every morning during the 15-minute meeting, students greet each other, have sharing time, do a quick movement activity and review the schedule for the day. Educators say this routine is an invaluable way to help students transition from home to school; it helps build a community where students feel cared for, known and ready to learn.

“I like it when people share because we get to know them a little better,” said first grader Dianelys. Educators at this school said carving out this time every day creates a culture in which students respect each other and their teacher.

SEL in High School

While elementary school may seem like the perfect place to learn social and emotional skills, often by high school the focus of educators and parents has turned to academics. But adolescence is a crucial time for young people to know an adult cares about them and can serve as a mentor. At Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, California, students take a “Habits, Community, and Culture” class devoted to improving their emotional intelligence and the skills that will help them cope with stress, setbacks and crises of confidence that are typical in high school. Their teacher, Aukeem Ballard, wants each teen to feel seen, heard and known.

Setting School Culture With Social And Emotional Learning Routines 19 January,2018Katrina Schwartz

  • Collab Classroom

    Learning to love, loving to learn!

  • Kristina

    Such an important concept that should be apart of each school day regardless of age. With so much emphasis on testing these activities and daily routines are dismissed or not looked to as being important. However, the sense of the community amongst students strengthens collaboration during problem solving tasks. Mr. Ballard’s testimony of refusing to see his students solely as a data point is inspiring and a thought that all teachers should remember. You mentioned that some teachers feel unprepared to take on a role that mirrors parenting and this is a valid concern as many of us learned once we began our teaching careers that being a teacher is so much more than lesson planning. Perhaps an area that needs more attention is training teachers while in pursuit of their undergraduate degree in the importance of social/emotional support for students. Your video links are helpful for all of us looking for a jumping off point, such as a simple morning meeting.


Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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