Building Much Needed SEL Skills in the Middle

The Flexible SEL Classroom: Practical Ways to Build Social Emotional Learning in Grades 4-8
By Amber Chandler
(Routledge/AMLE, 2018 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

In recent years, with our changing societal pressures, educators have become increasing interested in, and aware of, the need for social emotional learning in their classrooms.

Fewer and fewer (if any) students come to school with “life skills,” the ability to self-monitor and manage their emotions, set goals, build relationships, and make good decisions. A growing number of students come without a strong home support system and have already dealt with issues that would challenge many adults.

Amber Chandler emphasizes that the role of teacher has shifted, and that if our goal is to prepare students for their future, we need to address their social emotional needs if we are going to be successful educators.

In an accessible, conversational tone Chandler talks to us about what she is doing in her classroom to address SEL needs. And like that colleague down the hall who hands you a copy of their activity, her activities are downloadable from the book’s website.

Each chapter starts with a short introductory section, followed by a “sneak peek” box detailing what is coming in the chapter. The chapters then conclude with a series of questions called “your turn” to prompt you to think about the contents of the chapter and how you can include or adapt some of Chandler’s ideas for your own class.

All the topics of social emotional learning are covered in the 6 chapters: Grades and Risk Taking; Self-management; Self-awareness; Decision Making; Relationship Skills; and Social Awareness, with mindset embedded throughout.

While she admits that she teaches a more affluent group of students than many public school teachers, she believes that they all still need us to help with these skills, and that the core strategies in the book will work with all students. She explains that she has written the book in part to address the dire need for teachers to step up and be our students’ go-to person (p. 82).

Teaching in a high needs school, I can attest that many of her ideas seem to be applicable for my students. I know that I will be trying out a few of her strategies next year, such as requiring them to demonstrate risk taking in their work, and having them create their own teams for projects where they lay out the timeline, roles, products and process as well as due dates – and where the team’s project leader presents those to me (after I teach, model, and scaffold these skills, of course).

She is absolutely correct: students can find the content online so they no longer need us to be the sole deliverer of content. But they still need, and will always need, a teacher. We just have to reshape the role that we play in the classroom.

Employers need us to teach students how to learn and monitor their own metacognition, how to manage themselves and others, how to manage their time and materials, and how to effectively collaborate and communicate. Students will struggle to develop these skills if we don’t attend to their needs as humans and address the social emotional components that are holding them back. This is a very important part of our reconfigured role.

Filled with thought-provoking ideas on how to meet the needs of our students, Chandler’s book guides us with ideas and activities that we can embed in our classrooms to help strengthen SEL skills while continuing to meet the curricular and other mandates we are given. This book can help us to “heal our little corner of the world” (p. 102).

Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Middle School Special Education Specialist in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development and writes curriculum for her school district. She is working toward her second doctorate, this one an EdD in Program Innovation and Development.

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