4 Tips for Forming a SEL Group

Starting a social emotional learning group benefits the whole school community. They are the perfect delivery system to teach our students kindness and emotional wellness. And guess what? These qualities ripple throughout the school community. Caring is contagious!

When planning a new SocialEyes Together group, we like to follow a tried and true format. Laying a good foundation ensures that your group will thrive. Here are some points to consider:

The goal of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) group is for students to become resilient, learn self-management strategies, improve their relationship skills, become more self and socially aware, and be able to make responsible decisions.

How to Select Group Members

When forming a SEL group, it’s best to select students with similar social cognitive levels.

Having said that, it is nearly impossible to gather students with very close ability levels if you’re working in the suburbs which is true both at my office and in the private and public schools where I consult and lead groups. I’ve actually experienced that the program works with players of all social and intellectual abilities as long as they are able to do the following:

  • Sustain joint attention for prolonged time periods (a minute or two at first will suffice).
  • Comprehend and execute directions.
  • Manage behaviors and emotions with minimum assistance.

Grouping by relative closeness in age is important. Issues that come up in third grade are usually quite different than those that occur in sixth grade. My middle school groups of seventh and eighth graders want to talk about topics that younger folks aren’t ready to or equipped to discuss and vice versa.

Include Neurotypical Students

We always try to include a few neurotypical students in our groups. This provides varied perspectives and gives everyone an opportunity to explore new ways of connecting. It’s preferable if these students have an interest in learning improv, but some join because they are invited and are open to seeing what the group is all about.

This is a win-win group composition. Our neurotypical members quickly feel the benefit as they learn new ways to deal with anxiety, become familiar with the tools to deal with difficult emotions, and acquire other tools and techniques including improv acting skills.

Decide Group Expectations Together

It’s really important to start your first session by building a document that explains expected conduct. The agreement is a set of rules that everyone creates together and signs as their commitment to the welfare of the group. Start out by leading a discussion to hear their thoughts about what factors might go into successful learning and sharing of social space. Take the time to hear what works for each student, then brainstorm and let the ideas rip.

Write the rules students offer down where all can see and join the similar ones together in categories. Four or five positively framed statements will suffice. If students offer a negatively stated suggestion, ask them to say it in a positive manner. A statement such as, “Don’t be mean” can be turned around the positive message of “Be kind and caring.” Reframing negatively stated sentences to positive ones is a great practice and example for forming positive mind-sets in so many other areas of their lives.

Suggested Group Agreement Content

Sometimes groups members need a little help beginning this process. Guide them by offering categories. Some areas to cover are use of technology, inclusion, taking risks, learning from mistakes, being open minded, thinking things through, encouraging group members to participate, respecting boundaries, being supportive, making good choices, and honoring differences. No two agreements are alike! Here’s a sample group agreement from one of the SocialEyes Together middle school groups.

We agree to:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Listen and support other players.
  3. Honor other perspectives.
  4. Make good decisions that strengthen the group.
  5. Take risks. Try new things. Be ok with mistakes.
  6. Leave technology out of the group.
  7. Honor personal boundaries and confidentiality.

Post the Student Generated Rules

After the rules are generated, we make a poster that everyone signs, and then hang the poster where it’s visible to all. The beauty of the group agreement is that it takes the pressure off the leader to enforce what students might argue are arbitrary rules. Instead, it puts the onus on the agreement which they themselves created and signed. Of course, it will usually be the leader who points to the agreement on the wall when one of the players isn’t following one of the rules. But since all students had input and ownership to the code of conduct, they quickly come around to self-correct and regulate their own behaviors.

Which of these tips can you implement for your next SEL group in your school or office?

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