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A brief overview of how to improve children’s social and emotional learning in your setting

By Dr Tara McLaughlin, Karen MacKay and Dr Vicki Hargraves

In our webinar, Dr Tara McLaughlin (Massey University) and Karen MacKay (Best Start Palmerston North), share examples of resources, tools and professional learning processes that supported them to promote children’s social-emotional learning, from their teacher led-innovation fund (TLIF) project.

Here is a summary of their key insights.

Social and emotional development should be supported. Children develop social and emotional competencies within secure relationships in which they are provided with support and guidance, as well as opportunities to practise and refine their skills. The intentional teaching practices of teachers can help children to understand and acquire a set of adaptive skills they can use flexibly, responsibly and appropriately in different contexts.

Dr. McLaughlin has worked across several TLIF projects focused on promoting children social-emotional learning and has observed three key processes that teams undertake as they focus on improving social and emotional teaching and learning. These processes were described as:

  1. Developing general knowledge about social and emotional competence. This involves asking what are the skills that children need to know and be able to do, as well as what are the teaching practices and supports that teachers need to know and be able to do to support children.
  2. Personalising a localised and responsive approach. This involves asking what is important to families and whānau, what connects with the centre’s philosophy, and what teaching practices will fit with or be valued in each individual and local context. This stage helps teams to select, adapt or create tools (see below) to gather information based on the practices that matter and the skills that have been identified as important within their context. Teachers might identify practices they are using already as well as new practices to implement.
  3. A focus on data-informed culturally-affirming intentional teaching (see below) that is supported through ongoing professional learning and development (PLD see below). PLD should support teachers to change and improve practice while planning for and monitoring children’s progress in partnership with families and whānau. 

The processes described above are iterative and occur over time. It’s important to note that teams have all the skills they need to implement this kind of work, particularly if they are supported by strong leadership, are committed, and have resources to access research information. A good place to begin to take a closer look at understanding social and emotional learning isHe Māpuna te Tamaiti, or our set of resources here on The Education Hub. Start small and grow, make it manageable (for example, begin only with emotional literacy) and build up the team’s repertoire and confidence over time.

Teacher Evaluation and Child Assessment Tools can be developed to support data-informed inquiry to improve teaching practice and enhance learning. A Teacher Evaluation tool could be based on the self-assessment tool found in  He Māpuna te Tamaiti. This involves listing intended or desired practices, determining how these might look in practice, and with different groups of children, and being reflective about how current practices match up. This can help teachers to understand aspects of quality in relation to practices and identify strengths in their existing practice. Child assessment tools can be used to examine children’s current competencies, their strengths, and areas of need, or next steps in terms of progressions. These tools can be designed by teams, or existing tools can be adapted, so that they focus on what is important for children to learn in their context, and are localised and personalised to the early childhood setting. Developing or adapting tools does take time, but is the basis for the future work and PLD to come.

Data-informed, culturally-affirming, intentional teaching forms the focus of improvement work. A shared understanding of the desired teaching strategies and outcomes and how these look in practice with different groups of children and in different contexts enables teams to gather and reflect on information about teachers’ practice and children’s current social and emotional competencies. This information helps teachers to plan and teach based on what children need, the next steps in their skills, as well as the practices that teachers are currently using or want to use in the future. It is important to partner with families in identifying and implementing intentional and culturally-affirming teaching practices, as well as sharing information about children’s learning and progress.

As part of intentional teaching, meaningful and relevant resources can be developed. For example social stories are stories that outline what children might do in terms of a particular social situation, providing strategies for interacting with peers, following routines, or managing their emotions, for example. They provide a story-based method for giving children information. Social stories can be generalised for all children in the setting, or they can be designed for a specific child, using their photos and describing strategies personalised to them. They can be a great resource to share between home and early childhood  settings. Culturally responsive strategies and resources might include linking emotional literacy skills to cultural tools such as knowledge of ngā Atua (Māori gods) or key people from cultural narratives and legends.

Ongoing professional learning and development (PLD) approaches such as teacher and team based inquiry, practice-based coaching models, or other  supports embedded in teachers’ work can support teachers to implement new practices and strengthen existing practices. PLD supports should focus on reflection and feedback on current practice and the introduction of new strategies or areas of practice, providing support to use those practices (aiming for both frequency and quality). PLD supports can be enhanced through the process of using tools to gather data about what is happening, so that  planning and providing PLD supports can occur in an ongoing, responsive, and cyclical way.

Video reflections are a powerful aspect of PLD approaches designed to move your practice forward. This requires trustful and positive relationships between teachers and mentors or leaders that enable them to learn and reflect together. Trust is supported when there are high levels of transparency, in terms of having an identified set of practices that the team have developed together, planning for an inquiry goal and focus (selected by the teacher), focusing the video on this inquiry goal and focus (and nothing else). Discussions about what the teacher saw happening, and what the mentor / leader saw happening, and what next steps might be, can be very productive when supported by videos of practice.