How Social & Emotional Learning Programs Improve Classroom Management

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Coupling Care with Concrete Curriculum

Leveraging social & emotional learning (SEL) programs radically improved my classroom management by

  1. Investing students in co-creating a positive culture

  2. Teaching students how to respond to stress and other triggers

  3. Giving me a chance to calm myself before responding to any misbehavior

“Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

As a young teacher, I saw this quote and thought this was the secret to all my future classroom management issues. Show students I care and class will run smoothly. Got it!

And then the classroom management issues arose and kept arising! The more I read online, the more I realized that I wasn’t alone in this problem. A report conducted by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that 62% of teachers surveyed reported “behavior issues that interfere with teaching and learning have notably worsened.” Aside from knowing that many other teachers were facing similar issues and taking solace in the fact that misery loves company, I was at a loss.

One day after a particularly problematic period, I walked into a co-worker’s room where this quote was on the wall: “Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I realized this quote was in need of an update. I’m now convinced that the 2019 version of this quote should read, “Students don't care how much you know until they see you explicitly teach them how you care.” After all, we are teachers; students expect us to go beyond showing and concretely teach them something.

Unfortunately, large numbers of teachers aren’t provided with concrete programs that can help with classroom management. The National Council on Teacher Equity found in a 2012 survey that over “40 percent of surveyed new teachers reported feeling either ‘not at all prepared’ or ‘only somewhat prepared’ to handle a range of classroom management or discipline situations.”

This is where social & emotional learning (SEL) programs can and should come in. SEL programs that provide teachers with concrete activities, such as succinct, structured mindfulness breathing exercises, dramatically helped me with my classroom management.

Here are three concrete ways SEL improveD MY classroom management:

  1. Helped me teach students how we, as a class, can create a positive, caring culture

    By starting my classes with short lesson plans aimed at teaching students how to handle stress, I was doing more than showing students I cared; I was providing them with ways they could help create a positive and productive classroom environment--something I believe all students truly want.

  2. Taught students how to name and tame their stress

    The first time I led students in a mindful breathing exercise, I had a student come up to me after class and say that was the first time he got to hit “pause” during class. From that moment on, I knew this was something I had to include in my classes. SEL programs give students the needed chance to reflect on their stress and learn ways to positively overcome that stress.

  3. Gave me an opportunity each class to calm myself

    How a teacher responds to misbehavior can be more detrimental than the misbehavior itself. I participate in ASSET’s mindfulness and positive psychology tools alongside my students. So when I open my classes with these mini-activities, I am calmer and better suited to deal with future classroom management issues.


About the Author

Brent Modak followed the example set by his grandfather and entered the classroom first as a middle school teacher before moving up to teach high school history. As a member of the ASSET team, Brent helped develop the curriculum and led in the implementation of the program across all of ASSET’s partner schools. When not teaching Brent enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife and newborn baby, Lewis.


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