Why Social-Emotional Learning Is Crucial in the Digital Classroom

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Across our network of schools, we know that the academic and socio-emotional wellbeing of our students is essential to ensuring their success in college, leadership, and life. At Green Dot’s schools, we have developed a specialized curriculum delivered in 30m of daily instruction, called “Advisory.” Our schools’ Advisory model  provides students with a safe space to build positive relationships, increase academic resilience, and develop college-ready skills outside of their core classes. Amid distance learning, our advisory has remained a crucial safe zone for students where students cope with the unprecedented shifts in their lives.

We utilize a Multi-Tiered Support System (MTSS) framework that equips educators with the tools, resources and supports to foster the academic, behavioral and socio-emotional development of their students. In our learning environments, we help students learn how to manage emotions, build positive relationships, and tackle obstacles. 

School culture specialists Tobin Paap and Tim Ojetunde, both former Green Dot teachers, evolved the  advisory curriculum to support students during these challenging times. “Distance learning has validated what a lot of people are seeing and feeling. Families and educators knew our students were missing school, and were craving their connections and relationships,” Paap said. “But advisory continued to give them a space to be with their peers and teachers. They had a safe space to be vulnerable and to reflect.”  Green Dot prioritizes the growth and development of the whole student in our learning communities. While we’ve been apart amid distance learning, our teams and educators have worked tirelessly to keep our families, students, and community schools connected. 

Ojetunde experienced the impact of advisory firsthand when he taught at Ánimo South Los Angeles Charter High School. “It provides a space for teachers to check in with students individually, and talk about academics, practical skills, and progress,” he said. Each day of the week, our students had the opportunity to reflect on a different experience based on daily themes. On Mindful Mondays, students engaged in mindful practices to ease coping processes; On Transition Tuesdays, students learned hard skills such as sending professional emails, writing letters, building resumes, and researching colleges; During Wellness Wednesdays, advisory teachers opened a space to talk about mental health; Students participated in Thankful Thursdays, in which they listed at least one highlight of the week; and on Focus Friday our advisory teachers held discussions on life beyond high school, including financial aid, college acceptances, and virtual college tours. 

We built flexibility into our advisory courses to prioritize the wellbeing of the whole student. Our diligent teams built many lessons around current issues that have impacted the daily lives of our students, including Black Lives Matter and protests against police violence, LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and their transition into adulthood. “Our students want to talk about how they're treated and how they want to be treated in the world they want to live in,” Ojetunde said. The power of advisory derives from consistency. At our schools, students have the same advisory teacher each year, through a process called looping. This provides our teachers with a unique opportunity to build, strengthen, and maintain relationships with students outside of their core academic classes. Luis Alvarez, a social science teacher at Ánimo Watts College Preparatory Academy, has enjoyed building bonds with his advisory students. “It was one place that was always for the students,” he said. “No matter what, the lessons were structured the same way every single day. And it was a constant reminder that this is what we do to set the start of the day.”

Advisory will continue as we start the fall semester with online learning. Our school and culture specialists are planning community and culture lessons, while our school leaders are building authentic, individualized, and community-based content for our students. “We believe that the more students know about other cultures, the more understanding and compassionate they will become, and teachers can have follow up conversations around these topics of social emotional learning, culture and community,” Ojetunde said.

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