Tag Archives: sel

Maslow while you Bloom

This fall everyone seems to be worried about “starting the year with SEL” before launching into their content or “Maslow before Bloom.” There is a renewed effort to make sure that teachers are developing relationships and connecting with their students. Teachers are working hard to figure out how to successfully build class culture in an online environment that can feel isolated. So many have used creative strategies to make this happen.

I am in full support of all of this effort because I believe strongly in the power of culture in the classroom. Yet I think that there are some misconceptions, particularly around what it means to focus and teach SEL.

Not either/or

What does the “A” in CASEL stand for? I’ll wait while you look it up.

The research is clear that SEL competencies are best learned integrated throughout the day, not as a separate activity or class.

SEL is meant to be taught infused with meaningful content. So teachers don’t need to compromise on content. SEL should be embedded into everything in the classroom. You can teach SEL skills and content at the same time. You can Maslow while you Bloom.

Students who develop strong SEL competencies will be more successful academically. These are the skills that employers are looking for, and that society needs to solve global and local issues with empathy and love. They will make students more successful learners and better humans.

Not SEL

Not sure everyone understands what SEL actually means. What many people are really starting off the school year with is building relationships and being aware of students’ emotional states. Teachers are noticing the moods of students and being responsive to the trauma students may be experiencing due to Covid, racial inequality, poverty, or remote learning in general. While this is important work that teachers should be doing now (and always), it is not the same as teaching SEL competencies.

When looking at the actual list of SEL competencies, you will notice that they go way beyond checking in on your students emotional well-being. That is a great starting point, but SEL encompasses so much more. The competency are a complex set of tools students need for academic and social progress.

Not one week

Developing SEL skills in our students is not something that can be relegated to the first week of school and then checked off as done. It is something that must be prioritized for the entire school year. If you do meaningful activities to build relationships the first week and then week two shift into traditional, teacher dominated lessons focused entirely on content for the rest of the year, then that first week seems disingenuous.

  • If you only work on building relationships week one and then emphasize content, then how will students develop Self-Awareness of who they are?
  • If students are consistently passive listeners and never discuss your content in meaningful ways, then how will they forge Relationships Skills with each other?
  • If students only watch lectures, fill out worksheets, and take traditional tests, then how will students sharpen Social Awareness by applying content to their world?
  • If students only work through your lessons with no choices, then how will they build Self-Management by completing a project?
  • If students only read the chapter and take notes, then how will they exercise Responsible Decision Making through inquiry of their questions about your class?

Relationships and community building take time. It can’t be “accomplished” the first week and then moved on. The first week should set the tone for what your class will be like for the rest of the year, not some kind of one-off fun time before “real” learning begins.

We need to intentionally teach, practice, and assess the SEL competencies all year long. This won’t happen unless teachers make it an intentional part of their lesson planning. When you start each unit or project, choose one SEL competency or sub-competency that you will focus on developing in your students. Explain to them what it means and how they will be practicing the skill during the unit. Have students reflect on the competency and how they are using it throughout the project. Only by intentionality will all students see substantial growth in SEL skills.

Maslow while you Bloom means daily checkins on the emotional state of all of your students while expecting them to engage in content at a deep level. Teaching SEL means daily emphasizing student growth in the competencies using inquiry structures such as PBL while learning standards applied in authentic ways. SEL isn’t for the first week of school, it’s the reason that we do school at all!

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

10 SEL ideas to launch the year

Identity Wheel

Whether you are remote, hybrid, or face-to-face to start the year, educators are realizing that the only way to begin this year is by focusing on Social and Emotional Learning. This really isn’t new as most teachers start off any school year with team and culture building activities. But 2020 brought Covid and a refocusing of black lives with the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among others). On top of this is the trauma of poverty that twenty percent of the children in the US experience daily. Educators are reflecting more than ever on the mental psyche of their students due to national or personal trauma.

So here are ten ideas for how to start the year with SEL…and maintain a focus on SEL throughout.

1. Mood Meters

One simple way to “check in” with students is to use a Mood Meter to have students describe their feelings at the moment (I like the image in this post). This is teaching students to identify their emotions, which is the first step before they can regulate them. It also is formative assessment for the teacher on where students are at before jumping into an activity. An alternative is to use Rubber Bracelets, which could be adapted online by having students use a color wheel.

2. Highs and Lows

We always start class by having students share “highs and lows” which means basically anything that they want to share from important life events to “I had Taco Bell last night.” We used to call this “Good News” in our class and focused on sharing positive, uplifting things, but then we noticed students wanted to share painful things and would say, “This isn’t really good news, but my grandmother is in the hospital.” We realized that what was important for building safe community was sharing any news that was important to students. I truly believe this first few minutes of every day created the culture for the year.

3. Identity Reflection

There are many ways to get to know students and for them to learn about each other. If we want to go deeper than the typical icebreaker questions and be culturally responsive than we need to talk about student identities. Two excellent ways to explore identity are the Social Identity Wheel (example pic at the top of this post) and The Paseo or Circles of Identity These activities call for deep reflection on how students see themselves and the influences in their life. These may be too personal to share out loud, especially during the first week, but it may be appropriate to ask for volunteer sharing with you (never mandate it).

Another way to talk about identity is to show how visually biased we can be. Use 10 pics before and after people were asked to smile and 6 photographers, one man to discuss how what we see and how people portray themselves is only a small part of who they are.

4. Build Relationships

As we get to know our students and community, we can go deeper by helping students realize how they prefer to work in groups and with each other. You can use an online version of Meyers Briggs personality test or the Compass Points activity. This further builds their Self-Awareness of who they are, but also leads to Relationship Skills as they can communicate how they work with team members BEFORE conflict arises in their groups.

As the teacher my main goal at the start of the year is to get to know each student. This can be challenging at the secondary level with so many kids. This 360 Spreadsheet is a way to track the data that you learn about your students so that you can use it to guide your instruction. A quick visual check will show you which students you are not spending enough time getting to know.

5. Mini-PBLs

While addressing SEL, we should also be introducing some protocols and procedures so that students become familiar with them. The Selfie Project is a way to get to know students and model the PBL process in only 1 hour. Start off with an entry event of sharing slides about you; introduce the Driving Question: “Who am I?”; spend 2 minutes on Need to Knows; and then turn the kids loose to create their own selfie slides (inquiry). End class with 30 second presentations of who they are. You have just modeled the PBL framework so that when you use it with content, students are already familiar with it.

Whether you are remote or in person you are going to use some technology tools. Instead of direct instruction, use a mini-project like above to introduce it. Here is an example for GDocs Mini-Project. This process can be used for any tech tools that you will use with the DQ of “How do I use….?”

6. Connect with Parents

Whether you are in the same room or far away from students, it is important to make early positive communications with all parents. Especially this year make it a priority to have regular communication with all parents. Take the first step of a personal phone call for each student within the first month of school. Find strengths to share early in the year to build a positive rapport with parents and let them know that you are working with them.

7. Team building

Most team building involve students either touching each other or sharing materials, which is not going to work with Covid. Here’s a couple of activities with no contact at all. Write it / Do it has one student observe an object and then describe (verbally or in writing) it to a partner who has the materials and must build it. Materials are usually things like Legos or classroom supplies. To adapt for Covid, use colored pencils or crayons and have students draw on graph paper printed colored designs.

Another favorite of mine is to tell a One Word Story I ask students to respond to the question: “What is the meaning of life?” Math teachers might try Bing, Bang, Buzz. Count to 20 is another non-contact icebreaker that can be particularly challenging in a video call.

No matter what option you choose, it’s just a fun activity unless you have initiate a reflective debriefing. Show students an image of the CASEL competencies with the subcategories. Ask them which of these skills they needed to use to be successful at the challenge. Discuss how they will need to use these same skills for projects in your class through out the year. Importantly, come back to the activity as a reminder when students are struggling with a group problem.

8. Create Class Norms

Many teachers do this, but I am not convinced that they do it well. This process has to be focused on the kids and honor their voices. Creating and posting class norms is only a piece of the process. What is vital is referring to them whenever necessary, reviewing them weekly, and modifying as required. Class norms should be a living document that grows as students get to know each other.

Another option to consider is using talking circles (can be done virtually) to Create Group Contracts. This is one of the first steps of Self-Management and building Relationship Skills in your class.

9. Introduce Routines

Introduce whatever structures that you plan to use this year. A simple See, Think, Wonder can be used at any grade level and content area to help students be more observant and break down a problem. Students are equipped with a process for Responsible Decision Making.

I have made some templates for Visible Thinking Routines from Harvard Project Zero in Google Docs and Slides that work great for remote use. Check out this post for more info. and free access to the templates.

10. Teach Content

I see many teachers making comments like, “I am not touching content for two weeks.” I think that they are missing an opportunity. One of the dangers of SEL instruction is to treat it as an add-on to your classroom. Don’t treat it as something separate from learning. SEL and content can and should happen at the same time! This doesn’t mean that you can’t do some fun team building activities. What it does mean is that you should attempt to frame everything as essential to your class.

Connect the skills that students are learning to how they will help students be successful in your class. Identity could be the basis of your first project in English Language Arts. Consider a culturally relevant project addressing Antiracism in social studies. For math, you might introduce a tool like Desmos through a Getting to Know You activity. Some open ended experiments can teach students the scientific method and build community.

You can teach routines, build community, and establish procedures while starting to introduce the standards of your curriculum. Don’t fall into the trap that content can’t be fun or student-centered. This will be a year like no other, but no matter where and how your class takes place this year, you can address SEL in meaningful ways.

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.