Spring Fever, High-Stakes Testing and the Importance of SEL for Teachers
In a recent meeting about student behavior the discussion turned to spring fever and the stress students take on as state testing approaches. A colleague shared an experience that reminds us all that it’s not just students that feel the stress of state testing or the anticipation of summer. The teacher was working with her students on writing conclusions, a skill they had been honing throughout the school year. With the state test approaching, it was time to review and practice. When asked to write a conclusion, students acted like it was a foreign concept. The teacher’s reaction, however, was anything but foreign to those of us in similar positions: she lost it. The usually calm and considerate teacher ripped into the class, “What do you mean you don’t know how to write a conclusion? We have been working on conclusions all year! You have to be able to write a conclusion!”
Listening to her regret her uncharacteristic outburst it reminded me of similar scenes in my classroom recently. Her call for all of us to be aware of how the stress and excitement of the season affects our behavior drove me to think about how social and emotional skills are equally important for us as adults as well as students. Here are a few ways teachers can benefit from CASEL’s five SEL competencies:
Self-awareness: As teachers we must maintain our awareness of how we are feeling. As the above story highlighted, this time of year is ripe with emotion: the stress of state testing (especially in an age of increasing accountability based on test scores), the excitement of summer vacation and general exhaustion from a long, hard-fought year.
Self-management: Once we identify our emotions we can begin to manage them effectively. For example, in stressful times perhaps a lunchtime walk in the fresh air might be a better use of time than grading that lingering stack of papers. If we are aware of our emotions we can also anticipate situations in which they could lead us to uncharacteristic and undesirable behavior. During moments of extreme frustration in the classroom we need to regulate ourselves so students are not the target of our unleashed emotions.
Social awareness: We also need to be cognizant of what our students are feeling. They also feel the stress of state testing and, depending on a student’s homelife, the anticipation of summer brings uncertainty and anxiety rather than excitement. We simply must be able to walk a mile in our students' shoes.
Relationship skills: During these strenuous times we must maintain positive relationships with our students. More than ever (even though they would probably never tell us) they need us. They need us to listen, they need us to connect with them and they need us to be there when they need help.
Responsible decision-making: By paying attention to all the above we will be in a position to analyze the probable outcomes of our actions and make decisions that truly respect our students.
As the pull of summer and anxiety brought on by state testing increase, let’s remember that social and emotional skills are critical, not just for our students, but for us as teachers as well. By practicing and modeling positive social and emotional skills we can all end the year on an upbeat note without losing our cool.