We all know everything that has occurred over the last two years in the US and all around the world. Everyone has been affected in some way, children and adults alike. There has been a lot of discussion around SEL (or Social-Emotional Learning) and how to get it in school curriculums so that we can begin to help our children heal. The political landscape wants to know how much it will cost. It’s not just another educational initiative. SEL should not be treated as just an educational buzz acronym. SEL should not be geared and focused only towards our students. I truly believe that social-emotional wellness as a whole, needs to be  addressed for the teachers, support staff, and educational leaders in the early childhood, childhood, and adolescent arenas. However, our student population is the most vulnerable and inexperienced, so that is the focus here. They do not know that they have a toolbox to access with tools that will help them overcome obstacles and cope with trauma. Significant research has been completed over the years on ways to help students deal with adversity. Instead of  seeing this social-emotional need in schools as a crisis; what if we looked at it as an opportunity?

Do you know when you need (or just want) some alone time? Of course you do. We have all had numerous life experiences that have taught us certain signals and feelings that we might get from our brain or body, indicating that we may need a break. The reasons are plentiful.  Situations that may be causing stress and anxiety, time to reflect on recent events or decisions that are coming up, or perhaps carving time out of your day to be alone is an element of your daily routine, just to name a few.

One of my favorite ways to clear my mind and take in a little self-care, is when I go for a DWD: a drive without destination. Sometimes I listen to music, loudly.  I find the louder the music plays, the more I sound like the artist as I sing along.  Sometimes I listen to podcasts or audiobooks because I literally love learning about new concepts, ways of doing things, improving myself, helping others, and some good humor is always a nice touch.

Then there are times when I just need silence. Time to hear my thoughts that are typically drowned out by the noise that surrounds me. Sometimes it feels like I am being swept up in a cyclone with all of the noise and things happening around me, but not in a violent way. More like Mario does in the desert boards of Super Mario Bros. 3 on the original Nintendo gaming  system. If you didn’t make Mario run fast enough to jump through the desert cyclones he’d get stuck bobbing up and down in them. Eventually he would get out, but the cyclone would throw him backwards, so he had to keep trying until he successfully leapt through the cyclone to carry on through the board. However, if Mario collected different tools along his journey, he could look into his toolbox and perhaps choose one that would make his obstacle a little bit easier to overcome. If you are someone that has played this game before, I suspect you are hearing the music, and visualizing Mario running fast, spreading his arms as he jumps and flaps his raccoon tail that a leaf magically awarded him allowing him to fly above the cyclone avoiding it completely. Now, if you did not grow up in the late 80s and early 90s and enjoyed  playing television console video games, you may be a tad confused. That is likely how many of  our young and adolescent students feel on a daily basis as a result of everything they have endured since the beginning of March 2020. To take it a step further, imagine being an adult and having no knowledge or understanding of what a video game even is; now you might be able to empathize with how a child with a cognitive, social, or emotional developmental disability has been feeling.

via BehaviorFlip

This could be an opportunity for communities to unite for our children’s future success as  leaders of this world. There are methods and practices that are utilized outside of the typical school environment. Those methods and practices are what will rebuild our educational landscapes back into cohesive and supportive communities with a common goal. That goal can be reached by teaching students empathy, coping skills, mindfulness, cognitive behavior  techniques, and other methods that encourage social-emotional wellness through the whole student approach. Students need parents, teachers, support staff, educational leaders, and community leaders to come together for the greater good because they need us to show them the way. They need us to show them what the tools are, where they are, and how to use them.  Our youth are looking for guides to empower them to self-advocate and understand what it means to be resilient.

via BehaviorFlip

SEL is not a sprint. In fact, SEL is understanding and fostering of social-emotional wellness.  Like any attempt to improve an area of wellness, it is a journey. In order for success to be  achieved and maintained, a clear, concise, consistent plan needs to be thoughtfully created involving member representatives from all stakeholder groups (don’t forget to include the students on that task force). This social-emotional wellness plan should include measurable elements in order to assess its effectiveness. Finally, there should be open, active, and evolving lines of communication amongst the educational community throughout the development and  implementation process. Transparency in communication, especially during times of change, builds trust and respect amongst the community members.

Change is never easy. We have all witnessed and lived through some of the most  uncontrollable and unpredictable changes over the last two years. Now is the time to take back some of that control and predictability, and build a future filled with many tools to choose from so that we are ready for the next hypothetical cyclone that tries to spin us around.

Jennifer Kinyon

A life-long resident of the Buffalo, New York area, Jennifer Kinyon has over 17 years in teaching and leading in K-8 education, multiple years working in college athletics as a head coach, academic advisor, among other various roles. Jennifer has now turned her drive and dedication in the direction of social-emotional wellness. Two topics are at the forefront for Jennifer in the SEL field include (1): the mental health crisis currently facing the college student athlete population, (2): the social-emotional development of children with higher-functioning forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder during their early childhood years (ages 3-6), when placed in an inclusive learning environment with their typical peers.

“We have only begun scratching the surface of SEL. The social-emotional learning curves are going to be extremely strong indicators as to the directions social-emotional wellness outcomes could take.”

Jennifer has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing Communications. She has also earned four Master’s degrees in the areas of Education, Educational Administration,  Educational Technology, and Sport Administration. She holds New York State Teaching Certifications in Early Childhood Education and Childhood Education, as well as NYS certification as a School District Leader.

Jennifer can be contacted on Twitter and Instagram: @sel_well10

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