Differences Between Elementary and Middle or High School Classrooms

All students regardless of their age want safe, caring, and nurturing environments to be supported in so that they are able to grow. Teaching character and building life skills are a very important aspect of educating our students. Providing learning environments free from worry and creating a positive climate in our schools strongly influences academic and personal success. As schools incorporate social-emotional learning into their day, this enhances listening skills, empathy, compassion, relationship building, impulse control, bullying prevention, and problem solving skills. This also ties in with respect and citizenship. Social emotional learning (SEL) can easily be incorporated throughout our school day, but does look differently depending on the age of our students.

In an elementary school, students are exposed to social-emotional learning and are taught how to be socially, emotionally, and academically competent. Students’ SEL competencies are built through policies, programs, lessons, hands-on experiences and practices that enhance their young way of thinking. This helps students to better understand and manage their emotions, feel and show empathy towards others, and build and establish positive and healthy relationships inside and outside the classroom.

As students in elementary school are exposed to social learning, they are developing certain basic SEL competencies before they can begin to master other skills. Our young learners’ foundation and skills are built upon in elementary school as our students’ developmental abilities grow throughout each developmental stage. As our students are growing in their learning environment, things around them change. The demands placed on students vary with age, and in order to be successful, SEL skills are important at these different times of development.

At the secondary level, some students experience times during adolescence when they are at risk and may not be leading lives that support healthy development and may include limited opportunities for their success. There are several things that can play a role in this. Often maturity, gender, unstable relationships, and other developmental differences can profoundly impact students’ experience of school. Just as SEL lessons are critical at the elementary level, they also should occur for our adolescent students as well.

One of the most valuable resources we can bring to our classroom is ourselves. When teachers’ interactions and relationships with students are respectful, nurturing, and caring, and when teachers consider how cultural background and a student’s overall ability impacts learning, students feel that their voices are being heard and their opinions and views matter, and their basic needs are met. Students easily can see that their teacher believes in them, and the sense of belonging that a student feels can drastically impact their educational experience as well as their overall wellbeing.

Adding Social-Emotional Learning Components to Elementary Classrooms

Besides creating a nurturing and stable environment for our students and also providing an enjoyable learning experience, adding in SEL activities and lessons in the classroom leads to several benefits for our learners. These benefits also carry over to their families and their communities. By adding SEL into our everyday routines, we are allowing students to recognize the importance of their feelings and instill character traits that they will depend on throughout their life experiences. Understanding the importance of SEL at the very beginning of our students’ educational careers allows teachers to incorporate social-emotional learning in the classroom right from the beginning.

Teachers can integrate social-emotional learning into their classroom environments and teach across the curriculum or implement it as an overall classroom philosophy. Building SEL activities into your classrooms routines will help build the classroom community, as well as teach students to strive for self-improvement in all areas.

By teaching age-appropriate units at all grade levels, students benefit from continuity in SEL lesson plans. Curriculum maps can be created to ensure that all areas of social-emotional learning are covered from grade level to grade level. Early childhood teaching creates a solid foundation for more advanced SEL concepts that can build off of one another through the different stages of learning. As teachers continue to implement SEL and have a strong curriculum planned out to enhance these skills, it builds a positive climate that will improve the overall cultural of our schools.

Having a growth mindset or a basic understanding that all of our students can learn new skills plays a vital role in knowing how to successfully implement SEL within our elementary classrooms. Teachers can then have students create their own goals as well as track their progress that they are making towards their goals. Having the students be a part of this will create an ownership in the goal. These goals could be related to academics, behavioral struggles or physical and mental health. For our students to succeed during their elementary school experience and in further schooling and in their careers, students need to be socially, emotionally, and academically competent in all of these areas. Students’ SEL competencies are built through policies, programs that could include behavior, and practices that enhance students’ capacities to understand and manage their emotions. They also are able to set and achieve positive goals, recognize and show empathy towards others, and establish and maintain positive relationships.

As our schools continue to make strides to create a learning environment where all students can reach their full potential, learning to control their emotions and behavior allows students to succeed in social and academic situations. As educators we have a responsibility to best equip our students with these life skills that will stay with them inside and outside of our classrooms.