August 16, 2021

Teaching Through An Emotional Lens

There is no doubt that schools need to be prioritizing social and emotional learning right now.

As we enter a third year of COVID-impacted teaching and learning, we must understand how this pandemic has affected our students. A recent GenYOUTH survey revealed that:

38% of students report that their intellectual well-being is less than good.
47% of students report that their emotional well-being is less than good.
50% of students report that their social well-being is less than good.

This upcoming school year is sure to have its own set of challenges that students will need to (somehow) find the energy to overcome (yet again). If we're going to help them achieve this, we need to focus on making social and emotional learning a meaningful part of our lessons.

An equal footing.

As educators, we show our students through our actions that their well-being is equally important to us (if not more so) than their academic achievement. We need to let them know that they mean more to us as individuals than just producers of grades and test scores.

To achieve this, we need to put social and emotional learning (SEL) on an equal footing with the academic learning that happens at school. In other words, we need to bake SEL into our teaching's DNA.

Approaching each lesson with intention.

If you've been following my work, you know that I start my lessons off with a "What? Why? How?" discussion:

What are we learning today?
Why are we learning that?
How will I know I have learned it?

These discussions aim to help students find meaning in the content we will explore and set clear targets for their learning. To support this, I use "What/Why/How" graphics displayed on the whiteboard in my gym. Underneath each graphic is a pocket sleeve in which I put in a printout of the lesson's "What/Why/How" focus.

These graphics have helped keep the lesson's meaning and focus front-and-centre as students go about their learning.

Today, I'd like to show you what I've created to help you take a similar approach to social and emotional learning.

Breaking down SEL

Social and emotional learning is defined as:

"The process of acquiring core competencies to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations constructively."

(Elias et al., 1997)

In CASEL's social and emotional learning framework, the organization breaks SEL down into five core competencies:

You can download my SEL Competency Graphics in the Shop!

• Self-awareness (intrapersonal competency)
• Self-management (intrapersonal competency)
• Social awareness (interpersonal competency)
• Relationship skills (interpersonal competency)
• Responsible decision making (cognitive competency)

By doing a little digging around, you'll discover that CASEL breaks these competencies down further into SEL Capacities:

These are just a few of the capacities that are packed into CASEL's SEL competencies.

As I learned more about these capacities, I started to ask myself how to use them as emotional lenses for my teaching. Doing so could help me make SEL a meaningful part of every lesson I teach.

Here's what I came up with:

Introducing the Emotional Lens

I created a letter-sized, printable card for each SEL capacity that could easily be added to a pocket sleeve (just like those I use for my What/Why/How). In total, there are 40 cards and each card showcases an "I can" statement in student-friendly language that is aligned to the capacity it is associated with.

The SEL Capacity Cards are included in the Emotional Lens Pack, which you can download in the Shop!

With these cards made, I then created an "Emotional Lens" graphic that would become a part of my "What, Why, How" graphics collection. The idea here is that each lesson would be introduced with:

What are we learning today?
Why are we learning that?
How will I know I have learned it?
• Which SEL capacity will we use as a lens for our learning today?

The What/Why/How/Lens graphics are included in the Emotional Lens Pack, which you can download in the Shop!

By adding this emotional lens, we're reinforcing the idea that learning is an emotional task, and we can intentionally develop social and emotional skills over time.

Baking SEL into your lessons

Let me show you what this can look like in action:

Let's say your grade six students are in the middle of an invasion games unit. In this lesson, they will be focusing on defensive position and paying particular attention to positioning themselves between the goal and the player they are guarding and exploring the concept of help defence.

Your "What/Why/How" for this lesson make look like this:

As the teacher, you decide that the SEL Capacity you want to bring your students' attention to is "Self-Efficacy" (which is part of the "Self-Awareness" competency). This decision came from the fact that - in the past - you have noticed students who are less engaged in this aspect of the unit because they claim they a "just not good at these kinds of games."

This emotional lens now becomes a layer to the different discussions and teachable moments that arise in class.

This SEL layer can include anything from:

• A pre-activity discussion on what self-efficacy is and how it makes us feel.

Drawing attention to the emotional response that comes from experiencing success and knowing how to recreate that success.

• Inviting students to discuss actionable tactics that can help improve one's self-efficacy towards a task.

• Discussing how we can transfer the social and emotional experiences and learning from the lesson outside of physical education class.

Again, the goal is to help make this SEL focus a part of every aspect of the class. In doing so, we're helping our students see that their social and emotional development is as valuable as their academic development.

Final thoughts and questions

Getting comfortable with using an emotional lens in your teaching will take time and practice. My suggestion is to start small and pick lessons where the SEL connection is obvious. See how many "touchpoint" moments you can create by drawing your students' attention back to the SEL capacity they are exploring as they go about their learning in physical education. Over time, you'll grow more comfortable with selecting appropriate lenses for your lessons, identifying teachable SEL moments, and fitting social and emotional learning discussions into your teaching in a natural way.

If you'd like to try these resources out in your teaching, here are links to them in the Shop:

🛡 SEL Competency Graphics

🔍 SEL Emotional Lens Pack

If you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter! As always, thanks for reading and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com.
View all posts

Similar posts


Sign up and never miss another blog post!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.