How to Integrate Social and Emotional Learning in School Health Education

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If you are teaching a skills-based health education curriculum based on the National Health Education Standards, many natural connections exist between your health lessons and social and emotional learning (SEL). It is important to make these connections clear and explicit, both in your curriculum planning and to your students during instruction.

Although the health curriculum in my school is 100% skills based, we are only beginning to focus on making connections to social and emotional learning explicit and direct. These connections start before we even dive into our health curriculum as we create connections with students.

BUILDING CLASSROOM CLIMATE

At the start of every trimester, our health department creates “Terms of Agreement” with our new classes. The activity is based off of the ROPES activity created by Andy Milne, and the end result is a list of terms that everyone, as a health class, agrees to adhere to during our time together.

Taking time to develop these terms and general classroom norms with students brings all of CASEL’s SEL competencies and various sub-competencies into the health education classroom. As the teacher, you can choose which aspects to focus on and make them known to your students.

While engaged in this activity, students might be:

  • Developing a sense of purpose and demonstrating honesty and integrity (Self-Awareness)
  • Recognizing situational demands and opportunities, taking others’ perspectives, and Identifying diverse social norms, including unjust ones (Social Awareness)
  • Setting personal and collective goals and demonstrating personal and collective agency (Self-Management)
  • Communicating effectively, developing positive relationships, practicing teamwork and collaborative problem-solving, and showing leadership in groups (Relationship Skills)
  • Identifying solutions for personal and social problems, anticipating and evaluating the consequences of one’s actions, and reflecting on one’s role to promote personal, family, and community well-being (Responsible Decision-Making)

CHECKING IN WITH STUDENTS

I’ve written before about using the “Daily Check In” to gauge how students are feeling at the start of health education class. At the start of every class, students fill out a quick Google Form letting me know which zone from the Zones of Regulation they’re in.

By taking a few minutes to honestly assess their emotional state, students demonstrate the SEL competency of self-awareness at the start of every class.

Teachers can build off of this information and give students the opportunity to demonstrate responsible decision-making or self-management if students are provided with tools to assist them in handling their emotions.

USING THE HEALTH EDUCATION/SEL CROSSWALK DOCUMENT

The recently released Health Education/SEL Crosswalk from SHAPE America is a pathway that connects skills-based health education with social and emotional learning. The Crosswalk aligns social and emotional learning competencies and sub-competencies with the standards and performance indicators of the National Health Education Standards (NHES). It can be used for both unit planning and for building a positive classroom environment.

The Crosswalk is a great starting point for making the connection between SEL and the National Health Education Standards explicitly and directly in your units, assessments, and lessons. It’s been helpful as I look at ways to better infuse SEL into my instruction in the future.

For example, in our sixth-grade health education classes this year, students learn interpersonal communication skills that help them seek support from a trusted adult if they’re being bullied.

We’ve taken NHES performance indicator 4.8.4 (“Demonstrate how to ask for assistance to enhance the health of self and others”) and infused it as, “Demonstrate how to ask for assistance when bullied” as a main objective.

Next, we look for performance indicator 4.8.4 in the Health Education/SEL Crosswalk. The SEL competency of Relationship Skills is linked to the National Health Education Standard of interpersonal communication, more specifically with the sub-competencies of communication, social engagement, relationship building, and teamwork.

If we take this one step further, we can take a look at how SEL critical practices support interpersonal communication: 

  • “Take time to cultivate and deepen relationships, build partnerships, and plan for SEL.” 
  • “Design opportunities where adults can connect, heal, and build their capacity to support students.

With that in mind, we can look for opportunities in our lessons and our unit assessment for students to work together, for them to engage socially and deepen relationships, and to even bring adults into the classroom to work with our students.

TRY IT OUT!

Do you want to see how the NHES performance indicators are linked to your current skills-based health curriculum? Follow these steps:

  • Look at the performance indicators you’re currently using in your health curriculum.
  • Find those performance indicators in the SHAPE America Crosswalk document.
  • Identify which SEL competencies and/or sub-competencies align with the selected performance indicators.
  • Modify and adjust how students will demonstrate skill proficiency by including information that infuses the sub-competency into the skill demonstration.

For example, if you have a skills-based unit on analyzing influences, you might be using performance indicator 2.8.7: “Explain how the perceptions of norms influence healthy and unhealthy behaviors.” To tie in the sub-competency of perspective taking, you could task your students to examine norms from multiple perspectives or contexts.

The competencies, sub-competencies, and critical practices provide the what, but it is up to you as the teacher to determine the how, based on your specific teaching situation.

As health educators, we must take advantage of this important opportunity to support the development of social and emotional learning and health literacy in our students!

Additional Resources


Jeff Bartlett
Jeff Bartlett

Jeff Bartlett teaches middle school health education at the Holten Richmond Middle School in Danvers, MA. A graduate of Springfield College and Boston University, he was the 2020 Massachusetts Health Teacher of the Year and is the 2021 SHAPE America Eastern District Health Education Teacher of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @bartletthealth.