Relationship Skills: Applying Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Your Classroom

Relationship Skills: Applying Social and Emotional Learning in Your Classroom

It has been widely accepted that incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom can positively impact student behavior and outcomes. In fact, a growing body of research has shown that incorporating SEL competencies into teaching can result in improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance. So in what ways can teachers implement good SEL strategies?

In this fourth installment of our five-part series on the SEL competencies, we’re going to take a look at how you can incorporate relationship skills into your classroom.


Relationship Skills in Your Classroom

When your students move on to career and college, being able to work well with others will become a crucial life skill, which is why it’s important for students to develop good interpersonal skills early in life. Give students the opportunity to work together on projects in groups or with partners. When assigning partners, try to pair students who are less confident, shy, or insular with students who are more social and self-confident.

When conflicts arise, use it as an opportunity to have students reflect on how their actions affect others. Serve as a mediator and help students communicate constructively, actively listen to one another, and come to a compromise that works for everyone. Foster friendship and kindness in the classroom—set friendship goals—but also be sure to teach students about leadership and responsibility so they will think about the consequences of their actions before caving to peer pressure and unhealthy choices in order to “fit in.”

It’s also important for students to learn how to form relationships with their teachers so they can self-advocate, but speaking with a teacher directly can be too intimidating for many students. Foster communication by providing students with multiple avenues of contact, such as by phone or e-mail, and encourage students to reach out to you for help.

Google Teacher Academy vs. Apple Distinguished Educator Program [Infographic]

Google Teacher Academy vs. Apple Distinguished Educator Program

With so many edtech professional development opportunities available for innovative educators, it can be hard to distinguish which one is right for you, the qualifications necessary, and how to apply. We’ve done some research on two of the most highly competitive and prestigious programs for teachers who are passionate about using technology in the classroom: the Google Teacher Academy and the Apple Distinguished Educator Program.

What is the Google Teacher Academy? “The Google Teacher Academy (GTA) is a free professional development experience designed to help primary and secondary educators from around the globe get the most from innovative technologies. Each GTA is an intensive, two-day event during which participants get hands-on experience with Google tools, learn about innovative instructional strategies, receive resources to share with colleagues, and immerse themselves in a supportive community of educators making impact.” –Google Teacher Academy Website What do you learn? Educators will get experience with Google tools, learn about innovative instructional strategies, receive resources to share with colleagues, and immerse themselves in a supportive community of educators making impact. Once you have completed the training, you become a Google Certified Teacher (GCT) and join an online network of other GCT’s to collaborate and share ideas. How do you apply? Teachers submit applications to be considered to participate in the Google Teaching Academy. The application includes a questionnaire, short answer questions, and a video. Participants are selected based on professional experience, passion for teaching and learning, and their successful use of technology in school settings. Only approximately 50 innovative educators world-wide are selected to attend each academy. Who can apply? Applicants range from curriculum specialists, classroom teachers, technology advocates, professional trainers, to librarians and administrators who use google education tools to advance learning. [Testimonial] “My biggest takeaway wasn't a new tool or trick, though we learned great ones, but it was the reminder of what's possible with shared energy - that creative spark we hope to capture and recreate for our students.” - Gretel Patch, Google Certified Teacher, Nepal 2013, Google Teacher Academy Website. What is the Apple Distinguished Educator Program? “Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) are part of a global community of education leaders recognized for doing amazing things with Apple technology in and out of the classroom. They explore new ideas, seek new paths, and embrace new opportunities. That includes working with each other — and with Apple — to bring the freshest, most innovative ideas to students everywhere.” –Apple Distinguished Teacher Website What do you learn? Educators gather yearly at ADE institutes around the world to collaborate on solutions for global education challenges. Educators advise Apple, policy makers, and their fellow ADE’s on how they integrate Apple technology into learning environments. ADE’s get the opportunity to author original content about their work, and advocate the use of Apple products to help engage students in new ways. They become Apple Ambassadors of Innovation, and get to participate and present at education events around the world. How do you apply? Educators from countries who participate in the ADE program can sign up to be notified when the application period begins in their country. Applicants are then asked to complete an online application and submit a two minute video. Currently there are approximately 2,000 ADE’s worldwide and the selection process is highly competitive. Who can apply? Any educator who is passionate about innovative teaching and integrate Apple technology into their learning environment in a meaningful way that engages students, influences other educators, and helps transform teaching and learning. [Testimonial] “In his role as Director of Assistive Technology, Mark works with educators at the Anne Carlsen Center in North Dakota to find appropriate tools that make curriculum accessible to all learners. Mark uses Apple technology to open up a world of opportunities for students with diverse learning needs and is seeing incredible gains with students on the Autism spectrum.” – Mark Coppin, Class of 2009, Apple Distinguished Teacher Website

Social Awareness: Applying Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Your Classroom


Both educators and policymakers have come to agree that social and emotional learning (SEL) is a vital component of student development and can have a profound effect on academic performance. As students grow into adults, they must face a growing number of interactions with their peers and other adults, and their ability to navigate through these interactions can, in many ways, affect how successful they will be when they move on to college or career life. That’s why, as an educator, it’s important to consider SEL in your lesson planning, teaching, and classroom management style.

In this third installment of our five-part series on the SEL competencies, we’re going to take a look at how you can incorporate social awareness into your classroom.


Social Awareness in Your Classroom

Your students will one day leave your classroom and go on to become citizens of their nation and the world. They will be called upon to cast their vote and voice their opinion on a wide variety of topics that can influence the health and happiness of people the world over. Foster that sense of awareness by contextualizing your content to authentic problems and real-world issues that it will relate to.

As part of a class activity, bring in a news clipping about a current event and ask students to think about how it might apply to what they’re learning. You can also create lesson plans centered around performing a community service, such as cleaning up a local park or nature preserve, or holding a food or clothing drive. These kinds of projects allow students to have a participatory role in what they’re learning and gives them the opportunity to learn about and explore issues that concern their local community.

Creating context that students can relate to will garner both more interest and attention in your classroom as well as encourage them to keep their eyes and ears open when they’re in the world at large for issues that they heard mentioned in the classroom. Seeing connections between your classroom and the world they live in will just maybe enable them to answer the question “Why are we learning this?” on their own.

Source: “SEL Outcomes.” CASEL. Accessed June 1, 2015.
Source:SEL Competencies.” CASEL. Accessed June 1, 2015.

The Connection between Sleep and Academic Performance

Female, high school student, asleep with head on desk

Many people would agree that sleep, or lack thereof, affects how we perform in our everyday lives. All of us have at some point experienced a poor nights’ sleep which, in turn, has negatively impacted our functions the following day.

So it’s not a surprise that sleep also impacts our students and how they perform in the classroom. Several studies have confirmed that sleep is connected to both learning and memory.

What happens when a student does not get enough sleep?

Teens and adolescents require about seven to nine hours of sleep each night. When students are continuously not getting enough sleep, they can experience depressed moods and may also have difficulty retaining information that is presented in the classroom.

“The Consequences of Insufficient Sleep for Adolescents,” an article by Ronald Dahl, states that adolescents must reach REM sleep for the restorative biological processes that sleep provides. While an overall feeling of tiredness is an obvious consequence of lack of sleep, Dahl maintains that there are much more serious consequences like emotional and behavioral issues as well as problems with attention and performance.

ADHD and depressive disorders have also been linked to sleep. Dahl cites a study in his article where adolescents with Major Depressive Disorder suffered from both insomnia and hypersomnia. In addition, adolescents who had less than 6.75 hours of sleep a night experienced more instances of depressed mood.

What can we do to be sure that our students are getting the sleep they need?

In recent years, there have been several studies done regarding school start times and how they affect a student’s sleep schedule. Most studies maintain that students who go to sleep at a later hour do not do so because they want to stay awake, but rather because they are unable to fall asleep. The results of these studies paired with school start times as early as 7 a.m. for high school students have raised more concerns regarding the connection between sleep and academic performance.

Last year, Jessica Lahey wrote an article in The Atlantic regarding school start times. In this article, Lahey cites a study by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom that spanned 9,000 students and three different states. The study showed that a delayed school start time yielded results like improvements in grades and standardized test scores. A delayed start time allows students who go to bed later to get more sleep, meaning that the solution to helping students may be as simple as changing start times at schools.

Electronic devices could also have an effect on when students go to sleep. The release of melatonin, a hormone produced by the body to regulate sleep and wake cycles, is affected by exposure to light. In an article for the Washington Post, Mariana Figueiro of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, explained her research findings which indicated that teenagers were especially sensitive to the blue light emitted by certain types of electronic devices such as computer screens or tablets. She found that exposure to blue light suppressed more melatonin in teenagers than in adults, even when teenagers were only exposed to one-tenth as much light. So just putting away electronic devices one to two hours before going to sleep could also help students get to bed earlier and get more sleep.

Benefits of the virtual classroom

Most virtual schools are set up in a way that allows the student to work at their own pace and during times that work best for them. The obvious benefit here, especially in regard to sleep in adolescents, is that students are able to set sleep schedules that provide more than seven hours of sleep per night without interfering with school work. However, it’s still important that adolescents go to sleep at a reasonable bed time and rise after about seven to eight hours of sleep.


Source: Dahl, Ronald. “The Consequences of Insufficient Sleep for Adolescents”. Phi Delta Kappan. January 1999. Pp. 354 – 359.

Source: Lahey, Jessica. “Students aren’t getting enough sleep – School starts too early”. The Atlantic. August 2014.

Source: Kim, Meeri. “Blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, especially for teenagers”. The Washington Post. September 2014.

Get Kids into STEM by Starting a Robotics Program at Your School

Robotics Banner

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is receiving a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. STEM education helps students understand the world around them, from the natural world of plants and animals, to computers and tablets, to balancing checkbooks and beyond. What’s more, many of today’s controversies and political decisions are informed by science, and students will need to understand this information to perform their duties as citizens in a democratic society. STEM jobs are also one of the fastest growing job sectors, and demand is expected to keep going up. But how do we get kids excited about STEM education and interested in pursuing these kinds of jobs? It may be a lot easier than you think. Robotics programs are hugely popular at schools across the country, and students get genuinely excited about the opportunity to learn and experiment with machines. If you’re looking for ways to get kids hooked on STEM, starting a robotics program could be the ticket. Here are some basic steps to think about and follow to get a robotics program started at your school.5 Steps to Starting a Robotics Program at Your School [Infographic] First, decide what role your robotics program will play at your school and set goals.  Robotics programs can be implemented into middle schools and high schools in a number of ways. Your program can be organized into an academic team, an after-school club, a course or series of courses, or it can be used to enhance core learning. Taking the concepts taught in math and science courses and applying them to a real-world robotics project can greatly increase student engagement in STEM subject areas. Be sure to outline what goals you would like to accomplish by starting this new program. Do you want your school to participate in competitions like the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®) or the VEX® Robotics Competition? Do you want to help students build college and career skills? Or do you simply want to provide students with more opportunities to participate in STEM activities?  Second, determine what resources you can dedicate to the program. Part of what students love about robotics is, of course, getting to build robots! Carefully outline what expenses you will need to consider for a program of the size and scope you wish to implement. Think about how much funding you can budget for supplies or staffing, but don’t forget to consider what resources your school may already have available. Will you be using VEX® IQ kits or LEGO® MINDSTORMS®? Be sure to look into federal and private grants for STEM and robotics as well as local sponsorship opportunities.  Third, designate mentors to oversee and facilitate the program and guide students.  If your robotics program will be part of a fully-fledged robotics course, you’ll need a highly qualified teacher in place with the right skills and knowledge to teach students multifaceted lesson plans that will involve everything from math and science to coding and design. Even a robotics club or academic team will need mentor teachers available to help students set and achieve goals. Work with your staff to determine who has the right skills to provide students with the guidance they’ll need to see a project through. It’s very likely that your teachers will find themselves learning alongside their students.  Fourth, plan your implementation.  Whether your robotics program will be implemented as a course or an academic team, you’ll need to set aside time and space for it. You’ll also need to select and purchase any hardware or software that might be required to get your program off the ground. Additionally, outline some short-term and long-term goals or projects, but keep the program student focused, with plenty of openings for students to make choices about what they want to learn or accomplish with each project. Think about how you will get the word out to students and recruit them to join. Be sure to enlist the help of guidance counselors and teachers in your recruiting efforts, and send an official announcement home to parents and guardians.  Last, make it happen!  By taking the extra time to lay the foundation for your robotics program and really plan for its implementation, you can get things off to a running start and avoid a lot of common pitfalls and roadblocks. But don’t expect things to go off without a hitch. There are sure to be a few snags in the road here and there, so deal with challenges as they arise and think of ways to overcome or avoid problems as your program moves forward. And never stop looking for ways to fund your robotics program. There are more grants and funding opportunities for STEM than ever before, so there are lots of ways to grow and expand.