In 2018, when I was a junior at METU , I took part in a TEDx event that is held every year at my college. Like everyone, I was hoping to meet influencers and hear their inspirational stories, which actually happened but with a huge difference: their stories were full of tears, sorrow, loss, and abuse. I remember I was insisting on attending the session of Saadet Ogretmen (Saadet Teacher) as after all, she is a teacher, and I can learn a lot from her. It wasn’t easy to follow her talk while you were trying your best to control your fear, anger, and despair. She is a great example of a strong teacher who believes in equality and equity; however, the incident that happened to her made her think about safety first as she was “the teacher of Turkey” who revealed the biggest sexual abuse happened at a Turkish school.
The story goes on as “The school principal was asking me to send some students for a task every day. Every day, at the same hour some of my students were absent and when they were back to class, they didn’t look as happy as they were before leaving. I wondered what kind of task that is, and I went to the principal’s room. His door was locked, I couldn’t open but I could still hear some noise coming from that room. I was decisive to open the door and I managed to break the lock. I saw my students hiding under the table and him staring at me. I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. One of the students said they are playing tickling game. As a teacher and a mom, I am pretty sure there wasn’t such a game played under the table or behind the locked doors. I couldn’t talk. I just said it is class time and took the kids with me. When we came to the class, I started to teach how to protect our bodies and against whom we should protect. I said ‘there are two types of love: good love and bad love. Our moms can hug us, this is an example of good love. But if someone is touching us without asking our permission, especially if they touch our body parts where we cover with bikini, this is called bad love. And then I asked: ‘Is there anyone who has bad love for you?’ Only one student could be brave enough to tell me ‘Yes, there is someone who has bad love for us’. After this story, Saadet Ogretmen founded UCIM, a charity whose mission is to protect children rights.
‘It is not going to be easy when I graduate’ I said to myself with the tears I was shedding. I was studying English Language Teaching and I thought I will be teaching national curriculum and, surely, how to be a good citizen by knowing our rights and responsibilities. However, my priority was shifting to ‘making sure that my kids are safe, capable of communicating and working as a team to overcome the challenges we might face’. Raising a voice, a hand; asking a question, breaking the silence are always seen as big deals for a Turkish student. Being shy, not being straightforward or delaying the emotions are very common. If those kids were coming from a straightforward culture, I am pretty sure they would talk to their teacher before she found out. Unfortunately, they weren’t taught, and it is not their fault. It is society’s fault which comes from the mentality of ‘ don’t object to your seniors’. I could see how valuable to prioritize my students’ soft skills no matter what their academic standing is.
The research I have been doing took me to a new educational concept: Social Emotional Learning. CASEL defines Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring”. I hear you asking why this beautiful definition is important. SEL plays a critical role to help kids develop lifelong competencies such as collaboration, critical thinking, ethical-social responsibilities, professionalism, and communication. To target for those competencies, CASEL addresses 5 different components of SEL Framework:
- Social awareness
- Relationship skills
- Responsible decision-making
Realizing how important SEL has become, countries started to integrate the phenomenon into their school curricula. US Washington State has published an online SEL moodle on their website, Turkish government conducted a research study on whether SEL has a positive effect or not and results showed that it does affect students positively, thus, should be integrated into classroom applications. It is now a common understanding that SEL is one of the most affective concepts to raise self-proficient adults for the future.
Now is time to discuss how we can integrate or teach SEL using technology in our classrooms. The reason why I put the emphasis on technology is because technology offers us worldwide accessibility to what we need. Apart from that, learning with technology has become a skill of 21st century. Teaching SEL on technology is not a challenging process, on the other hand, it creates an interactive, amusing learning setting for students from all ages. Pandemic has shown us how technology could defeat miles and time zone differences by bringing people together virtually. This way, people could work, collaborate, discuss, brainstorm; thus, have become self-aware, responsible decision makers. Although it posed challenges at the beginning of the pandemic, technology has enabled teachers to monitor student success and performance easily via interactive learning management system. As a tech savvy teacher who used Edmodo to keep the track of my students’ performance, I could easily post their weekly assignments and observe who has difficulty in catching up with the curriculum content and deadlines.
Takin the advantage of technology, I observed how my students were struggling with young-adult pandemic burn-out and wanted to help them by suggesting some Yoga apps. Bringing SEL into tech will create more difference than teaching it offline, especially with young learners, there is a serious problem of attention span limit. It has always been the easiest to attract young learner with technology, specifically with games. The use of technology, games and time limits are open to discussion; however, takin the advantage of technology for educational purposes sets up a healthy management and learning process for educators and learners. To illustrate my discussion, Character Strong offers SEL curriculum samples and lesson plans for teachers. One online slide starts with the definition of Ikigai and continues with the prompt given to the students to think about their own Ikigai, which will praise the self-awareness they develop. In all educational approaches, there is the tendency to inclusiveness for as an educator, it is the primary responsibility to address all needs of all the learners. The learners with ADHD, for example, will struggle to follow a course and need a special treatment to ease the learning process. Taking the advantage of mobile applications such as Headspace, which offers meditation, mindfulness sessions, can help learners to focus on their studies. “Breath, Think and Do with Sesame” is a software which aims to trigger students’ decision-making abilities by providing them with cases and letting them to adjust their responses based on the case. This way, students do not only have the chance to develop SEL, but they will have a chance to get prepared to become a STEAM student in the future.
SEL teaching shouldn’t be the concept that only the class teacher should be aware of, but it should be embedded in school systems. Turkish government, after seeing the OECD report, has decided to prepare a framework to urge public schools to follow. Personally, as an educator who observed the gap in SEL and witnessed school shootings in the US, I believe SEL should be taken into a serious consideration not only with the purpose of safety but also to raise self-proficient citizens.
McGraw Hill Education Applied Learning Science Team. (2017, November 13) Fostering social and emotional learning (SEL) through technology. Medium. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/inspired-ideas-prek-12/fostering-social-emotional-learning-through-technology-8da6974e54bb
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Curletto, A., (n.d). 5 tools for incorporating technology in social emotional learning. James Stanfield. Retrieved from: https://stanfield.com/5-sel-technology-tools/
EdCraft. (2021, August 27) Social-emotional learning games & activities for kids. Retrieved from: https://edcraft.io/blog/all-articles/social-emotional-learning-games-activities-for-kids
Characterstrong. (n.d.). Grade 9 session 7. Retrieved from: https://curriculum.characterstrong.com/ssel/sample-g9s7
Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2021). Washington Social Emotional Learning Online Module Facilitator Guide. https://www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/studentsupport/sel/pubdocs/SEL%20Online%20module%20FacilitatorGuide-508-%208.1.21.pdf
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2020). Evidence-Based Social and
Emotional Learning Programs: CASEL Criteria Updates and Rationale. https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/11_CASEL-Program-Criteria-Rationale.pdf
Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (n.d.). Great apps to enhance students social emotional learning. Educatorstechnology. Retrieved from: https://www.educatorstechnology.com/2021/09/6-great-apps-to-enhance-students-social.html
Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı. (September, 2021). OECD sosyal ve duygusal beceriler araştırması türkiye ön raporu. Retrieved from: https://www.meb.gov.tr/meb_iys_dosyalar/2021_09/07170836_No19_-_OECD_Sosyal_ve_Duygusal_Beceriler_Arastirmasi.pdf