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How School Leaders Can Support Social-Emotional Learning (and Retain Teachers, Too)

June 14, 2022 4 min read
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At a time when the well-being of administrators, teachers, and students has become more of a focus, many districts have prioritized instructional practices like social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools. However, with the increase in demands on teachers, school leaders may be hearing that your teachers need more support in bringing social-emotional learning to the classroom. According to a recent survey, TpT found that SEL is something teachers want additional instructional resources, professional development, and support staff to successfully teach. In fact, 64% of teachers reported their students’ social-emotional needs are too much for them to handle on their own.

The good news is that the teachers surveyed felt more prepared to teach SEL when they believed their school leaders supported their personal well-being. Keep reading for practical strategies you can use to support educators, and in doing so, strengthen their capacity to support their students.

5 Strategies to Build Teachers’ Capacity to Teach Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

To address students’ needs, school leaders must first ensure that teachers are feeling supported and valued. School leaders can begin this work by collaborating with teachers and fostering connectedness to their school community. Here are a few recommendations from the teachers we surveyed.

1. Provide more professional development.

In the open-ended responses to TpT’s survey, teachers consistently asked for more support and better training to build the skills to deliver SEL. Thirty-seven percent said their school or district has not provided them with professional learning opportunities related to SEL. Among those who participated in professional learning about SEL, over half (59%) reported that it did not adequately prepare them.

Provide more thorough PDs for SEL and clearer expectations on how to handle various behaviors and challenges.

In-depth professional development sessions are, of course, one way to train educators to deliver SEL. However, you should also ensure that there are opportunities for teachers to practice SEL and receive ongoing support with this work. As a school leader, you can make a habit of regularly sharing SEL resources that teachers can use in the classroom, and/or practice SEL techniques in staff meetings. Additionally, you could set aside time throughout the year for teachers to revisit what they learned in training and discuss any insights or obstacles they’ve had in implementing these practices with students.

2. Hire more counselors and social workers.

Many educators and families are advocating for additional mental health support, especially in the wake of a national emergency being declared on children’s mental health. When surveyed, 63% of teachers reported that a student or their parent has asked for help with mental health or social-emotional concerns in the past two years.

Our school leaders have provided us with more funding for interventionists, a school counselor, and more resources for differentiation in the classroom. I feel this is a big step in the right direction.

The hardships of the pandemic have caused many students’ needs to go beyond SEL. For these issues, having more counselors and social workers in the school building can reduce the strain on teachers and provide meaningful help to students in need. When thinking about hiring plans for roles like this, school leaders can consider incentivizing social workers and counselors with recruitment bonuses and retention bonuses, and partnering with university programs in their area with social work programs and school counseling programs.

3. Support your teachers’ social-emotional needs, too.

As part of our research, TpT investigated how support from school leaders affected teacher preparedness to teach SEL. Analysis revealed a positive correlation between the two. The teachers who were more likely to say, “My school leader or administrator supports my well-being,” were also more likely to agree that they feel prepared to teach SEL.

When administrators support teachers and stand up for them and honor their time, this is the best thing a teacher can have, someone to stand up for them.

At a time when teachers are reporting great discontent in the profession, it’s essential that teachers feel like their school leader cares about their personal well-being. Some steps school leaders can take to mitigate the stress on educators include:

  • Reducing demands on teachers, wherever possible
  • Offering days off to ensure teachers can recharge
  • Scheduling planning and collaboration time

4. Offer ways for teachers to give input.

It’s no surprise that teachers have unique, first-hand insights into how to best support students. However, if there’s no way for teachers to bring their solutions directly to school leaders, many of these great ideas won’t be heard — or worse, never implemented.

Listen to the teachers and what they are asking for as we are the ones working with students every day.

One way you can gather teacher input is through regular school- or district-wide surveys. Additionally, school leaders can create a principal’s advisory council or use monthly meetings to discuss feedback teachers have. If you can provide opportunities for teachers to surface concerns, offer input, and recommend solutions, it will go a long way toward determining what’s needed to support SEL instruction, as well as boosting teacher morale.

5. Establish school-wide support for student behavior.

Since returning to in-person learning, many schools have seen an uptick in disruptive student behaviors. In fact, 68% of teachers surveyed by TpT say their students’ behavior is either slightly worse or much worse this school year. This underscores the need for schools to have systems in place to support student behavior.

Being more involved and implementing a school behavior plan that is actually followed through.

School leaders may consider putting a range of strategies in place to get everyone on the same page. For instance, establish clear schoolwide expectations, and expressly teach students those expectations. Engage the staff in the 5:1 ratio for positive to negative interactions with students. Doing this will ultimately enable teachers, counselors, and social workers to leverage the same tactics to support student behavior.

The State of Education Report is a research series by TpT that takes the pulse of educators, and measures the health of the teaching profession. Each edition focuses on challenges educators are facing and shares the promising practices educators are implementing to address them. Find past volumes here.