One of the most common questions I get from other teachers is, “What’s the most important part of SEAL?”
At first, I had to really think. Is it the artistic experiences? Or the explicit teaching? Or being proactive?
But real the answer is so simple, it almost seems silly, redundant, cliche.
So what’s the secret to SEAL (and all social-emotional learning)?
Get ready because it might make you roll your eyes at first, but ………..
I know. I know. You probably hear it all the time.
It seems so obvious, so simple, doesn’t it? And yet, oftentimes teachers don’t go about it the right way or don’t build relationships to their fullest potential.
Let me explain.
Building relationships isn’t just about icebreakers and name games. You haven’t truly built a relationship with your students just because you can make them laugh. Sure those things are good, and yet, we can go so much deeper.
Let me give you are few examples to show you what I mean. Here are some great ways to make sure you are building quality relationships with your students.
Greetings & Salutations
Never underestimate the power of greeting your students at the door and saying a heartfelt good-bye as they leave.
Just like what we tell our students: eye contact, a strong voice and a smile go a long way. The clincher, however, is . . . using their name!
Being able to call all your students by name is possibly the most powerful and meaningful gesture you can make to a student.
I remember when I was teaching middle school music and had 600 students, I worked SO hard to learn and remember kids’ names.
And it wasn’t even just the kids that I had for class during the trimester. (Bring in the name games!) My classroom was right next to the cafe, so I had current and former students walking by my room (and getting bottlenecked by my door) for much of the day.
It was fun to see the kids between classes and calling them by name was a big part of keeping relationships strong with many of the kids.
You can talk to kids all day long and think you are entertaining and engaging, but if you want to build relationships with your students, you need to listen.
I’m not just talking about listening to them respond to your question, I mean pause and really listen.
Sometimes when you talk with a student, it takes them some time to think of their answer or figure out their response. Sometimes, they have so much going on in their head that they need a moment to sort things out and process the words they want to say.
A few years back “wait time” was a big buzzword in education. It was something like:
When you pose a question to the class, don’t just call on the first kid or answer the question yourself, count to 10 in your head to give students time to think.
It’s a good practice to have even with students one-on-one.
And use it with non-curriculum time as well. When you are sitting with students in a conference or at a lunch bunch or for an after class check in, be willing to be patient and listen to a student’s response.
This gives the student a feeling of being heard and builds trust which is foundational to all relationships.
Get Your “A” Game
Now those ideas work for any classroom where SEL is a focus. Like I said, building relationships is the secret to all good social-emotional learning.
Well, with SEAL, there’s an additional way you can build relationships with your students: through the ARTs.
That’s right! The A is for ARTS.
Why are the arts such a powerful means to build relationships? Well, because when you create art together or listen to music together or watch a play together, you are sharing so much with each other.
You share ideas for creation. You share interpretations of a play. You may even share dance moves with the music. You share emotions with stories.
What you are doing is sharing a common experience – something real. And these real experiences (through the arts) have an unparalleled power to bond people together.
People (students, teachers, people young and old) discover things about each other, acknowledge similarities, start to understand differences, learn how to work together (and when not to).
This is all part of building relationships in a very unique manner that only can be done through a variety of arts.
Here’s a musical example:
A few years ago, when I was listening to a lively piece of music with my 4th graders during snack, we started to share stories about our interpretations of the music and how it made us feel.
One girl told how she created a whole story around a chase between a robber and a policeman. That’s when another boy exclaimed, “ME TOO!” They exchanged excited smiles and when snacktime was over, they met by the cubby and talked about what they visualized.
Later that day, those 2 brought paper and pencils out to recess to start drawing a collaborative cartoon.
You just never know what experience you provide for your students will make that difference to your students. These are the little moments that slowly build lasting relationships.
Start Right Away
Relationships don’t get built in one week, let alone one day. It takes time. (I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.)
Thing is, in order to build these relationships with your students, you need to start right away and continue working at it throughout the school year.
Whether you are gearing up for the first day of school or a Thursday morning, get started! And keep going.
Even if it’s the middle of the school year, you can take the time to do a name game refresher.
And sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to enjoy some art creation with your students because you know it’s good for them and YOU! (And be sure you build in some time to conference and listen to them as they describe their artwork and their process!)
If you’re looking for more tips on quality ways to build relationships with your students, you might like THIS VIDEO.
And if you want more strategies and practical applications on how to integrate the arts with social-emotional learning, you’ll LOVE my SEAL Foundations Course. I developed this online professional development course for brave, bold, and big-hearted teachers who want to make a difference in their students’ lives through social-emotional learning and the arts.
The doors are opening really soon, so be sure to stay in the know by joining the wait list for SEAL Foundations.