Incorporating social-emotional learning in school counseling sessions is both a natural and important task for every school counselor! We will explore why this is important and how to do it in this post; plus I will hook you up with some must-have resources and activities that you can use in your own counseling program!
Social-emotional learning in school counseling: A Re-Packaged Trend
Social-emotional learning, or SEL, “is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL, 2019, para.1). Now that we have a definition, let’s discuss why everyone is talking about SEL these days. Is it new? Nope! SEL has been around as long as humans! Our brains are hardwired to develop from our social interactions. So, SEL is not a new thing, it’s just a re-packaged trend. But, how it occurs can look very different for each generation! And this leads us into why everyone is talking about SEL these days…
Social-emotional learning in school counseling: Why it’s necessary
Nowadays, instead of families/communities incorporating SEL into everyday life, we spend a lot of time just talking about it. Back in the 70’s (my generation), we didn’t talk about SEL, we just did it. For example, 70’s moms often told their kids things like “go sit in your room until you can calm down and be nice again.” Moms today don’t do this a whole lot anymore, and neither do extended family members or adults in the neighborhood; but we sure do have a fancy name for it now- emotional regulation.
All this to say that many kids today aren’t getting SEL in the traditional way- from their families or neighborhoods. And we have the rising rates of suicidal ideation, anxiety, and depression to prove it (Twenge, 2015) !! So what does this mean for us as school counselors? As educators? As mental health professionals? It means that kids need SEL strategies in the form of healthy coping skills now more than ever and they need to learn these skills in schools because families/communities aren’t able to teach it like they used to. So. Let’s explore how counselors can help with this!
Social-emotional learning in school counseling: Appropriate Duties
According to the American School Counselor Association (2019), as well as state law TEC 33.006, (2017) if you are employed in Texas, these are the appropriate school counselor duties related to social-emotional learning:
- Incorporate SEL skills in guidance lessons.
- Teach students SEL skills in support groups.
- Teach students SEL skills in individual sessions.
- Serve as a consultant to staff conducting SEL lessons.
- Assist with campuswide SEL initiatives or events (emphasis on the word ASSIST, because the school counselor should be on the team, but should not be THE team.).
Social-emotional learning in school counseling: Resources & Activities
So, now that we know our role in SEL, let’s dive into some fantastic resources and activities to infuse it into our work with students.
The best way to implement campuswide SEL is to start with a team approach where the school counselor is part of the team. The best resource for campuswide SEL is The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning. CASEL is truly THE best practice go-to for campuswide SEL resources and activities as well as being the leading professional organization over SEL; plus, it has tons of tools. Check out their Setting Student Norms resource, one of my favs!
SEL in Guidance lessons
Guidance lessons are a school counselor’s best opportunity to load their students up with SEL skills! Since guidance lessons are a Tier 1 support, every student should be getting them…and since everyone will benefit from basic SEL strategies, it is a win-win situation to teach them in guidance lessons! Also, remember: the entire student body should see you regularly in guidance lessons, so they know who you are and how to get to you if they need help. My two favorite SEL sites are chockful of amazing activities, ideas, and printables that you can use to infuse SEL strategies into your own guidance lessons.
- Edutopia-Check out their 60 Second Strategies like Snowball Toss
- Common Sense–Pass the Face on page 27 is so fab!
You can find lots of SEL activities to use in your own guidance lessons in my full year guidance curriculum here.
SEL in Group Sessions
Counseling groups are another fantastic opportunity to impact students with tons of SEL knowledge! Generally, groups are a Tier 2 counseling intervention, so the kiddos on your group list will almost always need SEL skills. Let’s look at 2 of my fav SEL strategies to use in the group setting:
Since artistic expression helps children manage emotions and relieve stress, it is the perfect activity for a SEL-themed session. Here are the steps to the Ocean Wave Art Activity, which shows students the importance of staying on top of and managing their anger.
- Teach or review basic anger management strategies with students (this can be an entirely separate lesson or a simple opening activity such as charting student ideas on the current ways they healthily calm down when angry).
- Hand out paper and markers and have students draw themselves in an ocean on top of an ocean wave.
- Students can write their anger trigger (explain what triggers are first) inside the wave.
- Then, they write their preferred anger management strategy next to themselves on top the wave.
- Do a class gallery walk and discuss importance of staying on top of and managing their anger- just like they would ride on top of a wave (Lerner, 2018).
Techniques such as deep breathing and grounding can help students strengthen their SEL skills by building up healthy coping mechanisms. Bounding into Grounding is a fantastic way to teach students the important SEL skill of being present in their environment in order to reduce negative thoughts/feelings.
Here are the basic activity steps:
- Explain what grounding is.
- Have students focus their attention on five different things that they can SEE with their eyes. For practice purposes, students should say each out loud with the following sentence, “I can see the ____.” You will have everyone speaking at once and this is fine. You can transition them into silently grounding once you are sure they understand how to do it.
- Repeat this process with 4 things they can feel, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste.
- Direct students to take 3 more deep breaths and tell themselves one positive characteristic that they have (Lerner, 2018).
You can find lots more SEL activities like Ocean Wave Art Activity and Bounding into Grounding in my Get Your Group On books.
Social-emotional learning in school counseling: Favorite Reads & Resources
Since we are getting to the end of our post, I thought I’d leave you with some of my favorite SEL items that live in my counseling office!
Here are some must-haves for your SEL library:
- Brief Counseling that Works by Gerald Sklare- THE #1 school counseling book.
- The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt- a fascinating read that gives causes and solutions for the explosion of anxiety and depression we are seeing in our students!
- Stars of SEL– a interactive lesson set and video game- all on social-emotional learning!
- Watch Wellcast -fab mental health You Tube channel.
- Kidshealth.com- amazing resource for student physical/mental health and even has a teenshealth section too.
- Get Your Group On! Multi-topic Small Group Counseling Guides by Stephanie Lerner- every session is chockful of SEL strategies and actvities.
- Educated by Tara Westover- just the most fascinating story of a woman’s own unique and harrowing SEL journey.
And a few of my fav read-alouds for both the big kids and littles to use in sessions/lessons:
- Vicious by Hope Vanderberg
- Hair Love by Matthew Cherry
- Grumpy Monkey by Susanne Lang
- How Are You Feeling, Juan Pablo Chameleon? by Dan St. Romain
- Jacob’s Room to Choose by Sarah Hoffman
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey
Wrapping it Up
That brings me to the end of my November post. Please leave a comment because I’d love to hear what you are doing to infuse SEL into your school counseling! You can catch up with me again in December for my monthly counseling post that I share during the first weekend of every month! In the meantime, you can find out about my latest promotions, free stuff, or counseling adventures by following me on my School Counselor Stephanie Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest pages!
American School Counselor Association. (2019). The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs, Fourth Edition. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL]. (2019). The CASEL guide to schoolwide social and emotional learning. Retrieved from https://schoolguide.casel.org/
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL]. (2019). What is SEL? Retrieved from https://casel.org/what-is-sel/
Kidshealth. (2019). Healthy weight. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/healthy-weight-movie.html?WT.ac=ctg#catmovies
Lerner, S. (2018). Get Your Group On Volumes 1 & 2: Multi-topic Small Group Counseling Guides. South Carolina: Youthlight, Inc.
Lerner, S. (2018). Take it easy: stress management group counseling guide. Retrieved from https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Take-It-Easy-Stress-Management-Small-Group-Counseling-Guide-3822183
Lerner, S. (2018). Sending students soaring: trauma informed group counseling guide. Retrieved from https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sending-Students-Soaring-Trauma-Informed-Group-Counseling-Guide-4321469
Texas Education Agency. (2018). The Texas Model for Comprehensive School Counseling Programs. Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency.
School Counselors’ General Duties, Texas Education Code. §33.006 (2017).
Twenge, J., et al., (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938-2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical Psychology Review 30, 145-154.
Twenge, J.M. (2015). Time period and birth cohort differences in depressive symptoms in the U.S., 1982–2013. Social Indicators Research 121: 437. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0647-1