As teachers, we know how important social-emotional learning (SEL) is for our students, but we often forget how important it is for us. There are many SEL strategies that we can use on our own or with our students that can benefit a teacher’s mental health.
Social-emotional learning is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic and as we adjust to the new normal and some of us continue to deal with remote learning. Summer break is the perfect time to start practicing and planning social-emotional activities so that we can implement them when we are (hopefully!) back in the classroom this fall. SEL can help us as teachers and our students identify and manage our emotions.
Before you start using the social-emotional strategies below, identify the emotion you are feeling. You might think you’re feeling anxious, stressed, exhausted, sad, etc., but it isn’t always completely clear. Sit with it for a little while as you try to uncover the true, deep emotion you’re experiencing. This will help you decide on an SEL coping strategy that will work best for you.
SEL Strategy #1 – Use Positive Self-Talk
Just like we teach our students, it’s important to be kind to ourselves. People are often harder on themselves than they are on other people. One of the most important – but toughest – social-emotional lessons is that you deserve to be treated the same way you treat others. To do this SEL exercise, take a piece of paper and create two columns, as seen in the image below. Next, write “Negative Self-Talk” and “Positive Self-Talk” at the top of the columns.
Under “Negative Self-Talk” list negative statements you’ve said about yourself recently. Most of these statements are probably statements you would never say in front of others. As you read each statement, replace the negative statements with positive statements. Keep this paper nearby and add to it as you start to have negative thoughts about yourself. It will remind you to change those thoughts or statements to foster a positive mindset.
As your list grows and you practice, hopefully you’ll reach the point where you can frame your feelings with a positive mindset before the negative thoughts even have a chance to enter your mind.
SEL Strategy #2 – Drink Ice Water and Take a Walk
This is an SEL strategy to use before your students arrive at school, at lunch, during prep periods, or after school. It might not feel like you have time to do this, but make it a priority!
You don’t have to take a long walk and can make it fit into whatever free time you have available. Taking a break like this sounds so simple and like common sense, but it truly makes a difference.
If your district is doing at-home learning, this tactic is extra important. For teachers it’s already hard to separate work from our home lives, and the line only blurs more when working from home. This is a great way to make sure you take the time to step away from the computer and physically distance yourself from your work. If you have older children, remind them to do the same, even if it’s just taking a few laps around their room or house.
SEL Strategy #3 – Use a Calming Jar
Creating a calming jar is an easy and fun social-emotional activity and can be a useful distraction from some of the negative feelings we encounter throughout the day. Really Good Stuff® has DIY Calming Jar Kits, but you can create your own calming jars with materials you have at home.
To create a calming jar, follow the steps below:
- Grab a bottle and remove the plastic ring from the lid.
- Decide which ingredients you want to add to the bottle. (You will need to prepare polymers ahead of time by growing them for at least one hour.)
- Add contents to the bottle.
- Fill the bottle with water right below the clear circular area on the bottle.
- Seal the bottle tightly.
- Mix the contents by shaking the bottle gently.
Practice deep breathing as you watch the materials settle to the bottom of the bottle again. Once you’ve created your calming jars, keep at least one of them on your desk. When you need a distraction or a calming tool, simply rotate the bottle in a circular motion and watch the calming motion of the materials inside.
You can include your students in this SEL tactic by making it a class activity. Have everyone make their own calming jars and let your students keep them at your desk. However, if the jars become too much of a distraction you might end up having to limit use or taking them away for a bit. Be sure your students know the jars are for calming down when they have uncomfortable feelings and not a toy to be played with during instruction.
SEL Strategy #4 – Journaling / Coloring
Journaling is another great social-emotional activity that teachers could benefit from in their everyday lives! Journaling doesn’t have to mean spilling every detail of your day, though. While writing about the negative aspects of your life can help you vent, there are tons of different ways to journal that can keep your mindset positive. Below are a few ideas:
- Create a gratitude list
- Write about the best thing that happened to you that week.
- Write about what you look forward to most in the upcoming days.
- Make a list of people you are thankful for and why you are thankful for them. Don’t forget to add yourself to the list!
- Use a thin-point marker to create a swirly, intricate design. Then, color it as you focus all your attention on coloring, nothing else. Or print out the “Mindful Coloring” reproducible from the free resources section of reallygoodstuff.com.
No matter what you are experiencing each day it is important to remember that YOU ARE HUMAN. You, as a teacher, deserve self-care just as much as anyone else. Give yourself that gift and remember it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes.
There so many social-emotional strategies you can use to cope with uncomfortable emotions. The most important thing is that you are taking care of yourself. Stay well!
By Nicole Morelli
Nicole Morelli formerly taught first, second, and third grade. Before teaching, she was a paraprofessional, where she assisted in multiple elementary grades and a special needs class. Nicole has worked at Really Good Stuff for a little over two years as a Product Developer and Content Manager. Her specialties are STEM education and social-emotional learning. She has a lot of fun developing products for those topics!