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Social emotional learning in the elementary music classroom

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By Analisa Byrd

ocial emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Today’s students are distracted; some suffer from mental illness, and most are affected by social media more than ever. As teachers, our role has evolved to now teach the whole child, the whole learner, including their SEL needs. SEL strategies effectively improve students’ behaviors, attitudes, and academic performance. Focusing on SEL can have positive effects on academic performance, physical health, and citizenship. SEL approaches are sought by employers and can reduce the risk of maladjustment, failed relationships, interpersonal violence, substance abuse, and unhappiness. As music educators we already provide the perfect environment to implement SEL strategies in our classrooms and ensembles. Afterschool activities (e.g., choirs and Orff groups) are a great place for students to develop and apply new skills. In this time of excessive demands on teachers, weaving SEL strategies into your existing curriculum and pedagogical methods may seem daunting. But I can assure you that you already do so many of these strategies, and it will simply require putting an emphasis on a different part of the lesson. I began focusing on SEL strategies in my classroom about two years ago when I received a training on this “new way of working with student behaviors.” At first, I was overwhelmed by something new, but once I considered the strategies with an open mind, I realized I was already doing so many of the strategies in the music classroom. Lessons to Promote SEL The following are several examples intended to help you feel empowered to add these strategies to your classroom:

Self-Awareness Let’s look at a lesson that focuses on self-awareness—understanding one’s own emotions, personal goals, and values. This 50 Southwestern Musician | October 2021

involves assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mindsets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism. One way I support self-awareness is through a rhythm activity in which students review a variety of posted rhythms. I ask them to predict how successful they believe they will be. At the end of the activity, I ask students to discuss how they feel about being right or wrong in their choices, and we discuss their feelings about the outcome compared to their prediction. In a self-awareness lesson for younger students, I use the book Happy by Miles Van Hout. In this book about feelings, each emotion is labeled and illustrated. The illustrations are vibrant and colorful, and the illustrator chose color palettes that beautifully reflect the identified emotion. This lesson is easily spread across several days as there are 17 emotions identified. The process I follow is simple: play an audio selection for an emotion (e.g., Clair de Lune by Debussy) and discuss what it means to feel the emotion and how the music fits the emotion. You can close by asking the students, “When do you feel _ ___?” Self-Management Effective lessons for self-management—the ability to empathize, delay gratification, control impulses, and demonstrate perseverance—can easily be implemented through any game played in your room. When you play games, students learn so much about self-management and self-regulation. Again, just switch the emphasis here to have students acknowledge they are learning to control their impulses, persevere, and delay gratification. You can ask students a series of structured questions, such as why we take turns, why we keep trying even when we aren’t winning, or how it feels when another team does something. Get the students to label their emotions and feelings, validate them, and move on. Here’s a chant I use when students don’t get a turn: If I did not go today, it’s okay! This prepares their minds to bring the game to a close and reminds them that they can wait their turn for another day. Social Awareness This ability to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures is so easily reached within the walls of our classrooms. When we teach songs from

Profile for Texas Music Educators Association

October 2021 Southwestern Musician  

October 2021 Southwestern Musician  

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