Educators are paying closer attention to the social and emotional needs of the children whom they serve. In 2017, Ready to Lead conducted a national principal survey for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) on how social-emotional learning (SEL) can prepare children and transform schools, citing a 2011 meta-analysis that found that “students who receive high-quality SEL instruction have achievement scores on average of 11 percentage points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction.”

This suggests that there is a need for explicit and embedded attention to SEL. High-quality SEL varies in approach depending on grade level and school context, but high-quality SEL instruction should also extend beyond the school walls. Research has shown that SEL programs become more powerful when they extend into the home. Since a child’s day is shared between school and home, it is important for schools to consider how they can support parents and caregivers in attending to the social and emotional needs of their children. We know that SEL doesn’t work like a light switch that turns on when a child enters a school building and then turns off when they leave. It’s clear that when schools and families work together, they can build stronger connections that reinforce social-emotional skill development.

Three Key Strategies

Employ the following three strategies to help strengthen the connections with parents and caregivers so that they are better equipped to support social and emotional development in their children.

Offer learning opportunities for parents and caregivers to explore their own self-awareness, self-management, and social-awareness skills.

If we want families to be purposeful and explicit in how they reinforce SEL at home, then they need opportunities to talk about and process it the same way students are allowed to during the day at school. Although schools have become more intentional about their focus on SEL, the interpretation of the concept can vary significantly from one school to the other. For this reason, parents and caregivers need to understand the language of SEL that is taught at school. They need time to reflect on how they currently practice some skills, as well as recognize areas where they need to grow. It’s hard to reinforce social and emotional skills in others if one is unable to name and recognize those skills within themselves.

In my work with families and parent coordinators, the Learner-Centered Initiatives’ “SEL Competencies, Skills, and Practices” tool has really helped to facilitate the reflection process. This guide incorporates CASEL’s widely used competencies for SEL as well as related skills for each competency. Families can use this tool to identify skills that they are currently practicing and those that they would like to practice in the future.

Helping parents and caregivers understand and practice a growth mindset can promote greater self-awareness. For instance, have parents and caregivers describe situations that trigger a fixed mindset. Give them time to reflect and share with other parents in a paired or small group discussion. After this initial discussion, encourage them to think about and share ways in which they could respond differently to this situation that promote a growth mindset. If parents have time and space to reflect on past behavior and consider different ways to deal with the situation in the future, they are better prepared to support their children in developing those self-awareness skills.

Create time and space for parents and caregivers to collaborate and learn from each other in fun ways as they engage in the exploration of SEL.

Parents and caregivers come to the table with a wealth of information. If we want to nurture strong partnerships with and among families, it is important to provide opportunities for them to collaborate and learn from each other. During parent workshops, consider incorporating games that allow for parents to work together to construct the meaning of certain concepts. For example, I have used a game board with parents during workshops as they learned to differentiate between growth and fixed mindsets. This is an engaging game for students to learn in school. Students can introduce it to parents and caregivers during parent-teacher meetings.

As you consider ways to bring parents together, remember to provide structured opportunities for them to share ways that they reinforce SEL skills with each other. These opportunities can take place in workshops, PTA meetings, or even during parent-teacher meetings.

Provide concrete SEL strategies that parents and caregivers can use at home.

When working with parents and caregivers, it’s important to provide them with concrete strategies that they feel confident in implementing at home with their children. Educators should paint a picture for parents through specific examples and experiences that parents can understand. One of the best ways to do this is to give parents and caregivers opportunities to role-play several strategies during workshops or parent teacher conferences. Provide time for them to debrief the role-play process and to discuss the possibilities of using the strategies, as well as potential challenges that could emerge when using them with their children. During these discussions, facilitators can help families work through any perceived challenges so that they feel more confident in their abilities to use the strategies at home. For this reason, less is more in that it’s best to provide time to learn and implement a few good strategies, rather than to provide a list of unfamiliar strategies that parents and caregivers may not have ever had experience using before.

Schools that embrace a holistic view of SEL work with parents to strengthen the partnership between school and home. A holistic and high-quality SEL school environment recognizes that those involved are learners first about themselves and then about how they can support others in the journey toward greater self- and social awareness. Students learn that there is an interdependence and deep connectedness between what they learn and practice at school and what happens at home. Parents and caregivers are able to collaborate in a learning community that promotes reflection, personal growth, and support from school personnel as well as other caregivers. SEL promotes an interdependence among all who are involved—the more that we are able to support each other on the journey, the more effective and meaningful the journey becomes.

Jonelle Rocke is an educational consultant with Learner-Centered Initiatives, an organization that trains educators and parents in the areas of SEL, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. 

Want to chat about SEL with Jonelle Rocke? Tweet her @JonelleRocke.