By Jennifer Guthrie
Director of The Lower and Middle School
SEL has become a standard term in education over the last few years, but what is it really? Why has there been such a push? Is it important for a school to include SEL education? The Craig School’s mission is to provide to our students a strategy-based, comprehensive and challenging school experience that acknowledges their learning disabilities, builds on their aptitudes, and strengthens their self-awareness and self-esteem. This mission can only be fulfilled by taking the whole child into account.
SEL stands for social and emotional learning; it is the way children acquire social and emotional skills. The five widely recognized social and emotional skills are self-awareness, self-regulation, responsible decision making, relationship skills and social awareness. These skills are developmental in nature, just like motor and language skills. Their development starts at birth and continues to evolve throughout life. Many of these skills develop naturally for many children. However, if these skills are not mastered, behavior problems can develop that can interfere with their functioning in school and their ability to learn. Students with learning disabilities often have delayed executive functioning skills including self-control and self-regulation, which are directly related to their social and emotional skills. Recent years have led to an increase in this delay.
Before, during and after the pandemic, many adults, in and out of the education world were rightly concerned about the academic losses our children were suffering. There was little if any discussion around the loss of social and emotional skill development. When a skill is not used or practiced, it is lost and needs to be relearned. For developing children, these skills are much more important, and take much more time to relearn.
Our children’s social and emotional development stagnated during the pandemic. Even those, like students at The Craig School, who were in person during the 2021-22 school year, remained 6 feet apart and were not allowed to work with partners or small groups. They did not practice or develop their social-emotional skills. We noticed students who did not understand personal boundaries and were invading another’s “bubble”. While completing work with partners or playing on the playground, they needed adult help to compromise on what to choose. We also had an increase of students seeking support because a classmate was bothering them by making noises or moving too much. As a school, we found that we needed to do more to help our students gain some of the ground they lost and give them time to practice and develop these skills.
We have and continue to add pieces to our program to help our students develop their social and emotional skills. Our well-developed, scaffolded school-wide executive functioning program allows students to recognize and build their EF skills. School-wide SEL themes are directly taught and then woven throughout their day, the first of which is self-awareness. The Craig Lower and Middle School are adopting the Zones of Regulation, a research-based program aimed at increasing self-awareness and self-regulation. In addition, scheduled SEL classes across all divisions are times dedicated to direct instruction and real-time practice of these skills.
A very important layer to this system is the social clinicians at each division who support the teachers and students. All of The Craig School students have access to their social clinician to guide them through peer mediation, social stressors or personal goals. Students are welcome to meet with their clinician on an as-needed basis.
Every aspect of our program, including our approach to SEL instruction, is specially planned and executed for those with language-based learning disabilities. The whole school to small group to individual layered system of support provides the structure, repetition and immersive environment for our students to not only access their curriculum, but also to learn and thrive.