While each school might have a different motto and learning approach, their mission is fundamentally the same: to help young people become thoughtful, social, capable and inspired citizens.
One process through which schools are doing this is Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which helps children learn to manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
New research by Harvard University shows how schools can enhance this further by adopting a whole-school, ‘whole-family’ approach to SEL.
According to developmental psychologist, Stephanie Jones from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, schools and families should develop shared behavioural expectations and a common language for social and emotional skills.
She said this can make it easier for kids to transition smoothly and be successful across multiple settings with many different adults.
Jones and her research team recently compiled a list for Harvard University’s Usable Knowledge outlining five ways that schools can involve families in their SEL programming, and how families can apply those same practices and skills at home.
- Start by learning about families. Use surveys, open houses, or phone calls to find out about family composition, special skills, concerns, and likes and dislikes. This knowledge can help teachers connect with families on a personal level throughout the year.
- Invite families to generate SEL goals for their children. Ask families to identify what specific skills they would like their children to develop, and what kind of characteristics they would like their child to personify. Ask children, too, to write down their goals and the challenges they might face in achieving them. These goals can be connected to school or home.
- Designate internal capacity focused on SEL and family engagement. Have a designated staff person — an SEL or school-family partnership coordinator — who not only oversees SEL program development, implementation, and evaluation, but also serves as a liaison between educators and families. That position can be part of a larger school-wide committee that is involved in SEL planning and decision-making, and that includes people from every part of the school community, including families.
- Create a resource center for families. Schools should create a physical space where family members know they can go to pick up resources or books related to social-emotional development. This designated space signals to parents that they are welcome at the school — and that the school values their role in their children’s development.
- Plan ongoing SEL initiatives. Create opportunities for families to learn more about social-emotional wellbeing. At other family engagement events, such as holiday celebrations or class presentations, hand out a one-page SEL resource or ask parents to participate in a short activity about developing a specific skill. Provide examples of ways parents can build those skills at home.