Social-Emotional Development Improves Special Education

Nowadays, it’s difficult to be a teacher. To be in the special education system is even more challenging since your job involves working with “special” kids with “special” needs. However, it’s important for educators in this field to use the so-called social-emotional learning (SEL) in their everyday routine. According to the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), social-emotional learning is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” How is SEL applicable to “special” children?

Social Skills & Emotional Development are vital components to Special Education

In an article, written by Autumn A. Arnett, experts David Adams and Sharon Brawner discuss at great length the benefits of implementing social-emotional learning while working with special needs students.

“Special education students are really hard to generalize – they are ‘special’ for a reason. While special education teachers usually have a set of interventions that they pull from to work with most students, there is no textbook for every special education student. No one thing works all the time, and no one set of circumstances can determine how a child with special needs will react, learn or be impacted,” claims Sharon Brawner, a cultural specialist at Sela Public Charter School in Washington, DC.

Special Education & SEL Might Encompass Multiple Methods Of Education

David Adams, director of social-emotional learning at Urban Assembly, says, “There are many ways to help teachers to develop their skill-set to effectively address the social emotional needs of their students. In my experience at the Urban Assembly, we’ve seen that teacher-student trust, and student-to-student respect increase with effective implementation of [social emotional learning] programming and approaches across the school.”

Furthermore, Adams adds that, “these students have a profile of social emotional strengths and challenges that mirror that of the general population,” and ,”we can intervene with these students using similar supports as those in general education [but] with greater intensity and duration in order to lift their overall social-emotional competency.”

In addition to Adam’s thoughts, Brawner says that the SEL process might include ,“speech therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, differentiated lessons, manipulatives during math, visual supports, mediators, verbal and written directions. counseling, differentiated support during lessons [like] movement breaks in between lessons, an optional cozy corner in the classroom, second step lessons to support social emotional development.”

“When all students are learning about skills like identifying their emotions, perspective taking, responsibility and their role in the larger community, then students with significant needs in this area are much more likely to internalize these skills, attitudes, and values, compared to a model where these students are pulled out of the classroom and their peers and teachers are not exposed to these ideas,” Adam continues.

Special Education Development: Individuals, Not Groups

Both Brawner and Adams think that it’s vital to understand the “special” part of this category of students. Instead of trying to treat them like a group with equal needs, good teachers should try to find the missing part of the puzzle; to understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s important that we assess each student for their strengths and challenges and not assume that the category they’re classified under to receive special education services defines that student. For example, the fact that a student is classified under the category of Emotionally Disturbance tells us very little about that individual student’s social emotional strengths and challenges. What a student does is often more important that what their special label says a student ‘is’.”

There is no doubt that knowledge and academic achievements play a crucial role in the lives of each and every student. However, the relationships people build in a society, the way we communicate, and distance we walk in life often depend on something else – the degree to which we are emotionally mature. Having said that, someone has to do it in school. Who else if not teachers?

The Stanfield Way

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Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.

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