When you’re a student at the kitchen table sorting out polygons from parallelograms, having a parent or guardian at your side to guide you is invaluable. Positive adult involvement, including attending school meetings and functions and supporting students at home with homework help, is associated with higher test scores, better attendance and improved behavior.
Family involvement has the same positive effect on building social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, which are key to handling the challenges of both school and life.
Why SEL Matters
SEL skills are tools that students can use to cope with and understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s racial unrest. And by embracing SEL’s five core competencies — self-awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, social awareness, and self-management — youth can better navigate the world, now and in the future.
“Studies have shown that when SEL skills are developed, we see an increase in academic performance, attitude and behaviors,” says Sandra Martinez, Dallas ISD’s SEL Family Engagement Coordinator. “We also see a decrease in negative behaviors and emotional stress. We can all agree that these skills are useful in the classroom, school, within families and the community.”
SEL at Home
SEL skills aren’t things that can only be learned during school time or out of school time programs — in fact, research suggests that SEL programs are more effective when they extend into the home.
Family members and caregivers have the opportunity to reinforce SEL at home and help youth further develop these skills. “Parents and caregivers can help nurture ‘emotionally intelligent’ behavior at home by modeling and encouraging regular and ongoing conversations,” Martinez says. “Using moments that happen organically — like playing a board game, a car ride, or a trip to the store — can serve as an important opportunity where parents can springboard to create moments of learning.”
Some other tools families can use include:
- Encouraging youth to express their emotions using tools like A mood meter that allows youth to better express their emotions
- A calming or quiet area in the home that allows children to retreat when feeling anxious or overstimulated
- Establishing intentional routines for homework and downtime
- Active listening, which encourages better communication and helps youth feel heard and understood
It’s also important to remember, Martinez adds, that the needs of a family and children will change over time. Using different strategies can help address those unique needs, whether that’s through using books to support learning, integrating breathing strategies and self-care or creating a Family Treatment Agreement. For even more approaches, read EdSurge’s 10 Ways Parents Can Bring Social-Emotional Learning Home.
Educators and schools can also play an essential role in fostering family engagement, and CASEL also offers a variety of ways that they can nurture family partnerships. “CASEL notes that ‘when parents and schools partner with each other, students are able to practice the SEL skills they are learning at home, throughout the school day, and in their afterschool programming,’” Martinez says. “Educators can help encourage family engagement by communicating regularly with families about SEL learning in the classroom/school, as well as providing learning opportunities and support services for families.”
One way to help engage families is by suggesting SEL strategies parents can use at home. Those include everything from participating with their child in SEL-related homework assignments to modeling empathy, fairness, and helpfulness toward others and encouraging their child to do the same.
SEL in Dallas ISD
To help foster family engagement in Dallas ISD, the district’s Social and Emotional Learning Department is currently holding a series of SEL Family Discussions. These hour-long sessions provide an opportunity for families to learn more about SEL and SEL skills. The next discussion, which will be held on March 24, will focus on Managing Stress With Mindfulness; families can register here. Dallas ISD’s SEL Department has also set up a resource page for parents and caregivers, which features a variety of materials and strategies that can be used at home.