Research School Network: Social & Emotional Learning View from the Classroom: Developing an Evidence Informed Approach to Social Emotional Learning

Social & Emotional Learning

View from the Classroom: Developing an Evidence Informed Approach to Social Emotional Learning

by Manchester Communication Research School
on the


As new Evidence Leads in Education, the importance of evidence informed practice has been at the forefront of our teaching within our classrooms. To give you a little context, we are Year 6 teachers, who work in a highly disadvantaged part of East Manchester at Briscoe Lane Academy which is part of Wise Owl Trust. We are 5 years into our careers, a proportion of which we have had to teach through a pandemic. No training or university degree could ever prepare us for the impact that COVID would have, not only on our pupils but also on ourselves. Initially we entered teaching naively thinking that attainment would be our central focus, however we quickly learnt that teaching encompasses far more than just attainment: progression, behaviour, SEND, family support, and most importantly social and emotional needs. We quickly realised that without having the social and emotional skillset needed to function in a classroom environment, attainment and progression became redundant.

So what is SEL? Social and Emotional Learning is defined as, the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions’ (CASEL). SEL is an umbrella term to describe the range of approaches that are being used in schools, which are aimed at enhancing both children and young people’s social and emotional skills. Social and Emotional Learning has always been central to our ethos at Wise Owl Trust and as a result of the pandemic, this has become even more prevalent. At Wise Owl Trust, we have broken this down into 2 key areas: Character Curriculum and Wise Owl Wellbeing.

Our view throughout our teaching career has not changed – building good relationships are vital within a school setting. From there, every other skill can flourish. The EEF states, SEL is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and other vulnerable groups who on average have weaker SEL skills at all ages than their better off classmates.” The teaching and learning toolkit suggests that effective SEL can lead to learning gains of +4 months over the course of a year. So why is SEL a priority within our setting? The ethos that runs throughout our trust is that we prepare our children for the test of life and not a life of tests. We understand the importance of attainment and progress, however we believe that SEL can support this through focusing on the whole child and providing them with the skills to achieve lifelong well-being. Upon returning after the pandemic, we researched SEL and the evidence based practise available. A meta-analysis of SEL provision has shown an increase in academic abilities as well as SEL skills. It increased positive attitudes and positive social behaviours.

So what does SEL look like in a classroom and school setting? Within our classrooms at Briscoe Lane Academy, we teach SEL explicitly within a safe, conducive environment. We are aware that some of our children, unlike others, do not possess these skills naturally due to the environment in which they are exposed to from such a young age. We use a range of strategies such as: Character Missions, where children are exposed to situations in which they must find solutions to problems using our seven character traits (Resilience, Empathy, Self-Awareness, Positivity, Excellence, Communication and Teamwork). For example, in year 5 we teach our children about Diverse Britain within which children learn to listen and respond respectfully to a wide range of people, including those whose traditions, beliefs and lifestyle are different to their own. For example, Mission 1 focuses on What is my identity’ where children are asked to consider questions about respect and share their thoughts, when I am treated with respect it feels.…’ and when I am not treated with respect it feels.…’ Emphasis is placed on the equality of all in terms of human rights, the relationship between rights and responsibilities and the positive consequences of showing respect to others. All of these missions have a practical and a classroom based activity in which children discuss and share which of the 7 character traits they have focused on and displayed. These 7 traits are used as a shared language throughout school. From lunchtime organisers, admin staff to teachers: all staff use this shared language to communicate with not only our children but the wider community.

As role models for our children, we are constantly thinking about and are mindful of how we present ourselves and our emotions to the children. We make it clear that all emotions are valid and although feeling them may be uncomfortable, it is a natural part of life that we all experience. We teach our children that feeling is ok, but we need to be mindful of how we react as a result of these feelings as sometimes that is not always appropriate – we need to be able to regulate our responses to these emotions. We believe it is important to be open about our own emotions as this teaches children to share and express their own; we present the behaviours that we want our children to adopt. Our aim is to instil the awareness within our children for them to be able to recognise when they need to regulate their own emotions and provide them with the tools to do this successfully.

We have set dedicated time on all class timetables to explicitly teach SEL skills, we also embed SEL teaching across the curriculum, making links within a range of subjects such as reading, history and writing. We understand the importance as educators to pick up on teachable moments and make effective use of these; where SEL is more relevant and meaningful to children and therefore has the greatest impact. Alongside Character Missions, we have our bespoke Wise Owl Wellbeing (WOW) curriculum that teaches our children about mental health, wellbeing, relationships and acceptance. This programme has seen our children become more accepting of each other and provides them with the opportunity to build skills sequentially.

An example of how we see this in practice is teaching our children about mental wellbeing in Year 4, within which children learn that there are a range of emotions that all humans feel in relation to different experiences and situations. They learn to recognise that feelings can change over time and can range in intensity. For example, Mission 1 focuses on Gaging the Temperature’ within which pupils are asked to create a graffiti wall of a range of feelings and emotions. Pupils discuss how we can all feel differently about different things and the things we can and cannot control in our day to day life can impact our emotions. Pupils create a list of synonyms for the root emotion word and rank these on a scale of intensity to explore how feelings can build up or suddenly burst. Children learn to understand the importance of being able to describe their feelings as it helps them to manage their emotions and helps others to support them. These skills are further built upon in consecutive missions.

Although we teach SEL explicitly, we also provide some children with additional interventions to support them further in an area in which they struggle with. Nurture is highly important within our school alongside consistency. We believe that all children should be able to access an education and SEL falls in line with this; without these skills children struggle to cope in a classroom environment which impacts their learning. We strongly believe that we need to instil in our children the skills needed to face the social demands of the world today and cope successfully with any potential challenges they may come across.

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