Though social-emotional learning skills including empathy can be incorporated into middle school curriculum, schools have found not all students are connecting with the way these lessons are delivered.
The Association for Middle Level Education has received feedback from schools that some SEL programs aren’t landing well with students and that the approach itself may be the problem, said Katie Powell, director for middle level programs at AMLE.
“We’ve turned SEL into a series of slides, which doesn’t feel authentic at all,” Powell said. “Especially to middle schoolers.”
Powell emphasizes that adding SEL lessons to the middle school curriculum can be helpful, as middle schoolers are at the age when they’re becoming aware of their perspectives and also developing language on how to express these thoughts.
“Developmentally, middle school is the first age range when they develop that ability,” Powell said.
But middle school educators themselves may not have the training needed to weave SEL anchors into academic lessons in a way that authentically dovetails with the material they’re teaching rather than dropping a “standalone SEL lesson” on classes once a week, said Powell.
Stakeholders then, she said, should be mindful of ensuring teachers have the professional development and support they need in this area.
“They know how to be a science teacher or an ELA (English language arts) teacher, but they don’t necessarily know how to teach SEL or character skills in their content area,” Powell said.
A science teacher, for example, could help students see a link between the scientific method and how failure is part of that process — or any learning experience. In that way, students could begin to learn how to self-motivate even when faced with struggles and challenges.
“What does that feel like and what would motivate you to keep going?” Powell said. “Where do we see the same motivators and connect to them within our own life?”