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"What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves."
Socio-emotional learning (SEL) seems to be at the core of effective communication and can contribute to language learning. However, integrating SEL in curriculum design seems a daunting task to most educators – possibly due to its complex nature. This blog post proposes a reflection on challenging ourselves and creating conditions to enable more confident communication in the classroom and, hopefully, in the world.
What is confidence?
For this proposed learning context, we define confidence as a child’s feeling or belief that they can rely on themselves and others, appreciating their emotions, skills, abilities and strengths, while at the same time acknowledging their challenges, impulses and frustrations.
Teachers can aim to promote the development of healthy self-esteem (Nelsen, Lott and Glenn, 2013), embracing respect and responsibility from childhood.
By encouraging confidence in the language classroom, we can provide the space for kids to acknowledge their emotions and feelings, and to learn together how to better manage them in a positive and cooperative manner. In practical terms, confidence in communication may enable children to express themselves when they feel sad, frustrated, and irritated, as well as when they are feeling loved, proud, and curious.
The diversity of skills students bring to the classroom may be an enriching tool for learning. Confidence should be built so that all the children in the school feel they belong in their world and are equipped to communicate in an ever-growing range of situations beyond the classroom. Integrating SEL into the curriculum can shed light on the early development of skills that are often crucial to life in society – being empathetic, having difficult conversations in a constructive manner, being accountable, and communicating effectively in general. Ideally, changing the world involves giving every child their own voice and enabling them to be part of a society we are perhaps only imagining at the moment. By nurturing confident communication skills in the classroom, teachers may empower children to act towards more constructive conversations, collaboration, and a diverse world where the differences are celebrated and brought together.
SEL contributes to a more structured development of autonomy and agency, improving young learners’ self-awareness and self-esteem, thus positively affecting their academic achievement. Andrés (1999) observes the impact of confidence on social interaction, relationships, achievement and growth. Confident communication is not a new concept, yet not always given enough attention in the classroom.
Perhaps the challenge of dealing with the complexity of human emotions and the multitude of combinations of reactions in the classroom contribute to focussing on content curriculum demands for a more linear approach and measurable short-term goals in the classroom. However, the benefits of integrating SEL should be given more attention as SEL may equip young learners to approach content and language learning in a more independent manner, as they develop socio-emotional skills to deal with mistakes, to ask for help, and to solve problems.
The role of the teacher
Children can learn a lot by observing other people’s behaviour and that may be one of the most powerful roles of a teacher: being the person that positively affects learners’ behaviour. In SEL, we can only teach who we are.
The good news is that education does not aim at developing perfect human beings (is that such a thing?), but rather people who take responsibility for their mistakes, acknowledge ‘flawed’ reactions, feel proud of their achievements, and have a healthy confidence in their ability to learn. More importantly, education aims at developing people who feel safe to be who they are. In that sense, teachers are not ‘superheroes’ or flawless human beings either, but confident, socio-emotionally aware beings who support the growth of others.
Some tips to inspire learning through action:
- Allowing room for unpredictable questions in the classroom – children tend to be creative and encouraging their questions may communicate that we do not know everything;
- Treating errors as opportunities for learning, through constructive feedback and opportunities to correct production, or perform again if it is a speaking task;
- Communicating clearly and respectfully in and outside the classroom;
- Celebrating achievements for each learner in class – they are all different, thus will achieve steps at different moments, in different manners. The teacher can plan how to create an atmosphere where they all feel they belong;
- Acknowledging conflict and tension and helping children acknowledge feelings and seek connection and solutions (see Nelsen, Lott and Glenn, 2013);
- Frequently collaborating with other teachers;
- Promoting group work and collaboration among learners;
- Believing they can develop and learn;
- Believing in yourself – sometimes the biggest challenge here.
The importance of collaboration
When kids cooperate and work collaboratively with their peers, they can (in)directly develop their patience, the ability to help others, and achieve collective goals. In language learning, they may develop the skills to take turns, to ask questions, to interrupt, to ask for help, to paraphrase, and to listen actively. The benefits are numerous and the opportunities we give learners to collaborate in class enable the development of socio-emotional skills that will positively affect communication.
Besides this, collaboration may increase their potential: what children can do beyond their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) is boosted with support from peers, not only the teacher. Working collaboratively may help learners to take small steps outside their comfort zones and to learn to embrace challenges in a safe environment. This may also increase their sense of belonging as they learn they can achieve more together.
Some ideas for collaboration:
- Encouraging the group to build stories collaboratively and acting them out;
- Developing projects together – depending on the challenges set, learners will explore their world together and build knowledge;
- Setting up activities that are meaningful to the group and reflect their identity: cooperative games, exploring the environment and asking questions;
- Establishing routines that include SEL development. For instance, discussing their strengths, other people’s strengths and how they can be combined together;
- Teaching positive language for children to give feedback on their peers’ work and assess their own.
Overall, teachers need to be dreamers, believers and sufficiently patient. Education is a process, and consistency is important towards achieving a non-linear development of socio-emotional skills. By helping kids face challenges instead of avoiding them, teachers can help them build confidence in their skills to navigate the adversities of their future world. Although the true impact is not easily measurable, what is done in the classroom, through a solid integration of SEL in our curricula, is ultimately what affects the environment the children will build. We are in this together towards a better world!
Andrés, V. (1999) “Self-esteem in the classroom or the metamorphosis of butterflies” In Arnold, J. (ed.) (1999) Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nelsen, J., Lott, L., and Glenn, S. (2013) Positive Discipline in the Classroom. 4th Ed. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.