School forms the basis of a child’s social environment for the majority of his or her developmental growth. Consider the vast differences between a child entering kindergarten and the young adult that emerges at the end of high school. Through that individual’s entire development he or she was surrounded by a group of peers that were maturing as well. For eight hours a day, five days a week, students must learn how to navigate a social sphere that is somewhat unique.

The circumstances of schools are unique because, unlike other social circles, the members of a class or grade did not necessarily choose to be there. They are asked to repeatedly interact with a group of individuals who don’t share a unifying interest in the same way that other types of social circles do. As a result, social and behavioral problems may surface. From bullying to angry-control issues, there are a number of ways in which students lash out when they feel uncomfortable in social contexts.

The Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning

In order to address the social and emotional issues that are prevalent in schools, researchers have begun advocating for more social and emotional education. The pressures of a school’s social environment often distract students from accomplishing high levels of academic achievement. As a result, they need to be taught the proper social skills for fostering positive interactions among their peers.

The Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) publishes an annual guide of best practices when it comes to students’ effective social development. The guide lists the most effective programs for social and emotional education, along with a detailed description of each program’s strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can use the guide to identify the programs that specifically address the kinds of behavioral problems recurring in their classrooms.

Keys for Success

When implementing any social and emotional education program, there are a few steps you must take to ensure success. Perhaps most important is getting all faculty members on the same page. It is important that every adult who comes into contact with students is well versed in the kind of social education that you want to promote. For this reason it is a good idea to approach the appropriate administrators’ to secure support for a school-wide social and emotional learning initiative. Presenting a united front in this effort will greatly increase the chances of the program’s success.

In addition, be sure to reinforce positive behavior as much as possible. Students react very well to specific recognition of good behavior. Instead of the general “Good job,” make a concerted effort to specifically mention what the student did that was worthy of your praise. For example, saying “Thank you for helping clean up without being asked” or “I was really impressed with how well your group collaborated on this project” clearly indicates what the student did well.

Finally, devote some time to team-building activities in the classroom. One of the best things you can do as a teacher to promote healthy social and emotional habits is foster a strong classroom community. Help students understand the importance of positive collaboration and communication by including group exercises in your lesson plans. Gathering as a group once a week to discuss how everyone feels about the material they are learning and what questions they have fosters a sense of openness and trust. This opportunity invites students to build strong relationships with their teachers and one another.