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Home » Blog » Social Skills » SEL & Character » Social Emotional Learning – Why Now?

Social Emotional Learning – Why Now?

SEL & Character, Social Skills

Written by: Angie Olson

Social emotional learning is a hot topic in schools today and if you’re a teacher you are probably thinking to yourself, “Why now?” Teachers already have a ton of things to teach, do they really need to add another thing to their plate and the answer is yes but here’s why.

Times are Changing

Years ago parents and families worked as a community to help raise children as in the saying, “it takes a village.”  Now we aren’t as connected due to our busy lives and schedules, so we might not have that village to rely on for continuing guidance and support for our kiddos.  All of us do the best we can with what we know…and so did our parents, their parents, and so on and so forth.

I recently heard that when compared to a group of adolescents thirty years ago, today’s adolescents have the emotional age of that comparative group at the age of six or seven.  This blew my mind but also didn’t surprise me. With busy schedules as well as technology, our children’s emotional intelligence has been impeded. You might be wondering why I brought up how past practices created more emotionally intelligent adolescents. I am not saying we need to go back to threats or sweeping emotions under the rug. 

We are living in a different age, and we need to adapt with what is in front of us. We want our students to be self-aware. When they develop self-awareness, they can relate to others’ emotions because they now understand different emotions. This leads them to connect with others as well as have the ability to develop conflict resolution skills.  So yes, we want our students to understand emotions.

I do, We do, You do

Good news!  You already know how to teach children, so you are already ahead of the game!  All of The Encouraging Classroom content starts with us as educators. We need to model the behavior we want our students to absorb.  Therefore, it is imperative that we stick with this. Did you know that it takes a child only eight times of practicing a new skill for it to become a habit?  Guess how many times it takes us as adults? Five, three, eight, ten…. Nope, twenty five! You know what that means? We all have a lot of work to do if we want this new skill to become a habit. 

Can I share one more tidbit of information? In order for a child to replace an already learned behavior, it takes them twenty eight times of practicing the new behavior to replace the old behavior.  Don’t worry. By the time you’ve practiced it twenty five times and your students are practicing along with you, that student who still hasn’t caught on, will very soon!

Check out our Social Emotional Curriculum on All Access! Let us help you with your social emotional learning lessons!

Download Social Emotional Curriculum HERE

So why is a Social Worker writing this?

Let me introduce myself.  Hi! I am Ashley Mohn. Angie Olson is my sister.  Before becoming a social worker, I was a teacher for 10 years, mostly with students in elementary school.  I have two degrees-one in early childhood education and another in elementary education. I think I followed in Angie’s footsteps because I adore her as my older sister.  I also wanted to learn more about kids because I was freaked out about being a terrible mother. Little did I realize that college wouldn’t teach me very much about how to work with various behaviors.  It especially did not teach me how to educate children in the area of social emotional learning.

Moving on…after about five years in the field, I realized that I gravitated toward my students who had social and emotional troubles.  At that point in the profession and living in the small town I did, we didn’t have much to help us with these students. I needed to learn more, so I decided to pursue more knowledge in an area that I tended to already gravitate toward and wanted to thrive in. 

Today, I am a school social worker in a middle school and am a licensed graduate social worker. Our school has made some shifts recently in our school culture as well as how we are going to enhance student social and emotional health. I am eager to see the results of our efforts and share with you all!

What if I Don’t have a School Social Worker?

There’s an app for that.  Just kidding. I have collected many ideas for you, so hold onto your horses!  One small but very big thing that I am here to help with is the mind/body connection. 

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally (  Mindfulness has shown to help us move from our fight/flight/freeze response (amygdala) to planning and problem solving (prefrontal cortex).  Mindfulness can promote skills, like the ability to focus and concentrate. These are skills are controlled by our prefrontal cortex.  The more we practice using our prefrontal cortex, the more likely for it to become a habit.

There are many different models of what mindfulness is out there.  The good news is that you can choose whatever works best for you. I chose to go with what I have learned from someone in the social work field as well as someone in the occupational therapy field.  That model is: calm, move, calm.

That’s it! There are some great resources and websites for teachers out there on movement. My only wish is that they all ended with a calming activity because without it, students may have difficulty transitioning back to learning.

Mindfulness Ideas in the Classroom

  • Calm-one might also call this grounding, pausing, or connecting to the present moment.
    • Ring a chime→ students listen to it until the sound disappears and then put up their thumb when they cannot hear it any longer.
    • Display nature pictures→ did you know that 40 seconds of nature can elicit serotonin to help one regulate.  It also helps with attention to sharpen your mind for the next task.
    • Play calming sounds→ this can get fun with student input.  My personal happy place is listening to loons. They remind me of home.
    • Breathing techniques→ hoberman sphere breathing, hand tracing with breaths, and tip: if you want students energized, focus on increasing the length of the inhale breath and vice versa for calming students
  • Move-one might also call this stretching or yoga.  Incorporating movement is so important because trauma resides in the nervous system, and moving our body helps our minds to relax.
    • Yoga/stretching
      • Backbends
      • Side bend
      • Twist
      • Forward folds
      • Lunges
      • Shoulder rise & release
  • Calm-one might also call this focusing, meditating, or rest.
    • Glitter jar→ shake it up and watch it settle.  This is similar to what our brains are doing when we are dysregulated.
    • Pulse count→ count pulse for 30 seconds and x by 2.  Make it into a chart for a math lesson.
    • Guided imagery/mental vacation→ students can be given particular scenarios to imagine in their minds
    • Progressive muscle relaxation→ guide students through progressively tensing and releasing the muscles in their bodies

Final Words

Lastly and most importantly, I want to reiterate what Angie has emphasized.  Involvement from home is key. If parents are able to learn these social emotional skills as how to “keep their cool”, AKA thinking with their prefrontal cortex in order to provide healthy modeling, our students are going to be set up for so much success in life. 

In the Encouraging Classroom Teacher Club, Angie helps you bring character education and social emotional learning into your classroom as well as extending that learning into the home. Click here to read more about this heart-centered teacher community!


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