Strategies to Support Social and Emotional Learning (Ep. 188)

As teachers, we understand that social and emotional learning is a vital part of what we do in our art rooms. Dr. Wynita Harmon joins Tim on today’s episode to discuss strategies for incorporating more social and emotional learning into your classroom. Listen as they discuss building relationships with our students, the role art teachers play in developing our students’ learning, and simple ideas that you can utilize immediately. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Over the past few years, we as educators have come to realize the importance of social and emotional learning. There’s been an incredible focus on it. I feel like that’s something we’ve always known, especially as art teachers. We know that social and emotional learning is vital for our kids, both inside and outside of school. We teach a fairly expressive subject and a lot of what we do lends itself to dealing with emotions, dealing with kids expressing themselves, and learning how to read the expressions of others, and all of those things are incredibly important. Like I said, we are well-positioned as art teachers to lead the way with social and emotional learning in our classrooms.

It’s a topic that I feel like we’ve covered a lot, like it’s something we’ve discussed on the podcast. There are a lot of resources in the AOEU magazine on the website, and it’s something we’ve covered at every conference for the past five or six conferences. Honestly, there just continues to be more and more demand, especially from school districts. People are continuing to ask about strategies, about resources, and we’re trying to keep up with that.

As part of that, we are really excited actually today to roll out a new art ed pro learning pack from Dr. Wynita Harmon. It’s on social and emotional learning. It is coming out today, so if you’re a PRO member, you can go check it out. It’s in the library, it’s ready to go as soon as you hear this. If you’re not a pro member, you should get there, but for now, you can settle for this discussion. But I think it’s going to be a really good discussion. Let me bring on Dr. Harmon and we will talk about the importance of social and emotional learning, why we need to focus on the topic as teachers, and we’ll also discuss some strategies that we both think will work well for your kids. So let me bring her on now.

Alright, Dr. Wynita Harmon is joining me now. Wynita, how are you today?

Dr. Harmon: I’m doing good. How are you doing?

Tim: I’m doing really well. I am happy that you are finally on the podcast. I feel like we’ve known each other forever and you’ve never come on the podcast, so it’s good to have you here.

Dr. Harmon: Thank you.

Tim: So, let me just start with you have your PRO learning pack that’s coming out that is all about social and emotional learning. I was hoping that, first of all, can you give us an overview of just what social and emotional learning is. Secondly, why you’re passionate about it, why do you think it’s important for us to focus on that in our classrooms?

Dr. Harmon: Sure, yes. Social and emotional learning, it’s also known as SEL and I’ll probably say that here and there. It’s a way in which students and teachers understand and regulate their emotions in a variety of ways. So with that, this consists of giving your students the skills necessary to understand their emotions. It helps them with setting positive goals as well as learn more about empathy and feeling that and showing that for others, and it helps them with establishing and maintaining positive relationships. It can even help with responsible decision making, which is really important in the classroom.

I’ve noticed that many schools today are implementing social-emotional strategies or programs and I just think they’re really great because they’re there to kind of help… They’re there exactly to help regulate students’ emotions and give them skills to handle everyday life. You know, sometimes dealing with taking on adult responsibilities or maybe they’re worried about their next meal sometimes and so that’s just a lot of pressure on students, so helping them learn how to put in the right mindset for school and just deal with things that come into their life. Overall, I think that is why SEL is really important in schools, because sometimes parents don’t know how to help their students in that way, so in that regard, we can be very helpful.

Tim: Yeah. I want to ask you too, you mentioned things about implementing. Not a lot of districts are doing that, but what suggestions would you have for teachers who maybe don’t have that district support, but they’re still interested? What would be strategies that you see that are effective that you see a lot and maybe do you have a couple of ideas of things that would be easy for teachers to implement if they’re not doing so already?

Dr. Harmon: Yeah. SEL’s pretty natural in the classroom sometimes. There are some things teachers are doing that they may not even realize. For instance, greeting their students at the door. That is a great way to foster those positive relationships and give them that sense of belonging. Playing music in the classroom, that can help them, our students with a sense of comfort and it gives them a relaxing place just to be themselves. Once teachers are helping their students with working out certain issues, just learning those decision-making skills and how to deal with other students, so sometimes it’s really happening naturally. I do have a few things that are easy to implement.

For instance, breathing techniques, they can be done at any grade level. By just giving students those skills to help calm themselves down if they’re frustrated or they’re mad. I think breathing techniques are easy, you can find them online. But also within the pro pack, I have a resource that has breathing techniques that can be posted in the classroom, so that’s really helpful.

I also think that classroom circles, those are really simple to implement in the classroom and they can be done like once a month. I know the art teachers, we have a certain amount of time but relationships are really important. With the classroom circle, you’d get your students together and you could ask them a question. It could be how are you feeling today or what did you have for dinner, maybe what do you want to be when you grow up? It’s just a safe place to talk. With that, I’d go more in-depth with it in the pro pack, but it’s pretty simple and you would have a talking stick to help promote who’s talking and that helps students learn how to respect each other’s time and be patient. If the student wants to pass and not share, that’s okay because as time goes on, they’ll probably be more willing to answer questions as they build trust.

Tim: Mmm. Yeah, that makes sense.

Dr. Harmon: Yeah, and one final technique I like that can be pretty simple to implement is a calm down space in a classroom. Some people call it a mindfulness corner or a peace corner. You can give it whatever name you’d like, but it’s just a space in the room where your students, if they’re having a bad day, like a lot of times I would notice a student who’s coming into the classroom and they’re frustrated, maybe they’re crying. I’m like, “Okay, you can go over here, relax, come back when you’re ready.” Some teachers set timers, but in this space you could have self-soothing. It could be as simple as a desk and a chair, it could have maybe a poster about breathing techniques, a sketchbook that students could just sketch in and just wind down or it could have like a glitter jar or some other manipulatives. But it could be as simple as a desk, a sketchbook, and maybe a poster that talks about managing your emotions, but calm down corners are really popular and I found a lot of benefit with it.

Tim: All right. I think those are all really, really good ideas. I kind of want to circle back to something you first said there just about, you know, like greeting kids at the door. I know you’re a big believer in creating that positive, that welcoming environment for your kids, which you know I think works at the high school level too. But just a couple of questions related to that. Number one, that positive environment, how does that help with social and emotional learning? Then secondly, what are some other things that you can do to consciously try and create that environment?

Dr. Harmon: Okay. Yes. Creating a welcoming and positive environment is really important because it allows your students to feel comfortable, loved, and respected and so this helps with SEL because you’re able to connect and meet their emotional needs. If a student has a problem, they’re more apt to come talk to you instead of blowing up because you have that relationship and rapport built in. Also, I think it helps deter problems because students are learning how to foster positive relationships with each other too.

Dr. Harmon: Now to create that positive environment, besides welcoming your students, I think there are a few other things that you can do. Like … let’s see, learning their names, knowing who they are and just be able to say their name. Of course, we have lots of students so that can take time, but it’s worth the intentional effort to do that. That really makes a difference.

I like to, as students work on their work, I’d talk to them when they’re doing their artwork. Just, “What did you have for dinner?” Or, “What are you doing this weekend?” And then I’ll share some things about me, so just building that mutual respect and showing that I care.

I like to also make my classroom expectations with my students. This definitely presents ownership of the classroom. It helps them be responsible and make those positive decisions. When they have ownership, they are more apt to follow those directions and just take care of the class better.

I think … let’s see, I also like to encourage collaborative projects and positive reinforcement is really important. So when you see your students doing a good job, definitely share that with them. You don’t always want to just be on them for the little things . . . positive reinforcement is really important.

One big one when it comes to behavior, I think not calling a student out, that could cause a lot of issues. So if I have a problem with a student, I like to pull them in the hall or just close to me to my desk and have a quiet conversation about it and that really helps.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s good. I think it shows respect for the kid. I think that goes a long way too, like you said, if you’re not calling kids out, that can really, really help. Now just kind of related to … I don’t know if you want to say related to the rules following, but I know another big thing for you is in the structure and the routines of your classroom and consistency and how that can help with social and emotional learning. So can you talk a little bit about your classroom management, I guess, and how classroom management can play a part in helping social and emotional learning?

Dr. Harmon: Oh yes, sure. I think that children definitely crave routines and order and focus a lot on that. Giving students that order and structure is really important to them mentally as well because they could be stressed from their own life. Maybe they are up all night or I just never know what’s going on. So when they come to school, just having that space that has order is really helpful for their social and emotional health overall. So when it comes to classroom management, I like to give students jobs, have them work together to clean up so that’s building that relationship between them and their peers. Having them line up correctly, they’re all things that give students the opportunity to make good decisions and build those positive relationships. So with that structure, students are able to just kind of stay in line. If you don’t have that structure, there are more opportunities for issues to happen and so just keeping things in line really helps keep things together.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really a good point. That’s really well said. I also wanted to ask a little bit too about projects themselves. What would be an example or a couple of examples of activities or art projects that can help kids express themselves, help them develop their social and emotional learning?

Dr. Harmon: Okay. In art, it’s all about expressing yourself and getting to know yourself better. I have a couple of projects I would like to talk about that can help get that point across to your students. One project that I really like involves choice. I really am a big believer in choice in the classroom. It naturally builds their social and emotional strategies a lot of times because there’s ownership, they’re making decisions, and natural collaboration happens a lot. So for this, I would … there’s one project that I like to do and it’s about mood and emotion. From there, I would have students be able to choose between drawing, painting, and collage, they can have those choices over their materials. Then I like to introduce an artist’s name, Melissa McCracken. She has synesthesia and so with that, when she hears music, she sees certain colors. There’s a great YouTube video about that.

From there, she makes abstract paintings on how she feels. We talk about that as a class and then I would probably also introduce some blending techniques. We talk about how certain colors affect certain moods. From there, when they have that basis, for their studio time, I’d tell the students to create their work, focus on a current or a past emotion. Then I let them know that they can use any of the materials in those three centers. If you don’t have centers, you could definitely just bring out some different supplies that they can use and let them make choices that way. One great way to just assess what they learned is with the exit ticket and then have your students share what inspired their piece for the day and then you can just kind of see if they made that connection between emotion and art. So that’s one project I like to do over mood and emotions.

Tim: Yeah, I like that.

Dr. Harmon: Thank you. Then I have one more that focuses on identity, just knowing and knowing who you are. It’s also a collaborative project. With this one, I would first talk to students about expressing themselves and how art’s a great place to do that. We create our portraits that are traditional and non-traditional. A lot of times, portraits can be kind of scary for kids and so I like the non-traditional ones too and how it didn’t just have to be a face staring, you know, right there on your paper. It could be a worm’s eye view looking up towards you, it could be feet, it could be objects that represent you or some symbolic. So we talk about portraits and the different ways you can do that.

Then the following activity, every student would write their name on a piece of white paper and you’d have all the students go write some kind of positive word to represent the student that wrote their name on the paper.

When you’re done with that, it gives your students some time, let them look at it, they can reflect on it. That’s also a confidence builder. It’s just nice to see positive words about yourself from your peers. With that, that would be part of the project. Students can use some of those positive words to put into their portrait. So with that, you give the prompt to say, “Okay, you’re going to make a portrait and I’d like you to add some text to describe yourself.” So that little activity is a confidence booster, but it also gives them some words to use within their project and from there, students create their own self-portrait.

You can choose the materials they use or it could be a mixed media piece, it just depends. Pretty much from there, students are able to create that. Let them share it out with their tables when you’re done. Or you could even have a class critique and students get to learn more about each other, which helps continue to build that relationship up in your classroom.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. Great, great ideas there, I really, really love those. Then I guess just one last question for you. You’ve touched on a couple of these things, but can you just tell us what else you put together for your pro learning pack that’s there? Can you maybe talk about some of the other topics you covered or the downloads and resources or maybe just another idea or two that people can take back to the classroom after they watch your learning pack?

Dr. Harmon: Oh sure. There are several different resources in there and one was really fun to make. I made a glitter jar on camera.

Tim: Nice.

Dr. Harmon: Yeah, we had a nice little jar as well as lots of glitter and glue and get some water in. When everyone watches the video, you’ll be able to see it specifically how it measured out. A glitter jar is a great piece to put in your calm down corner, if you have one. It could be something you keep on your desk and if you notice a student needs it, you could hand it out to them as well. But pretty much the glitter jar just includes glue, water, glitter in a jar. I do recommend, I like BOZ water bottles. They have a nice shape to them and you can-

Tim: Oh, those are the most beautiful water bottles, like the design on those, it’s incredible.

Dr. Harmon: They’re nice to look at, they’re beautiful. I love them. The top, I just add a little masking tape and it secures it. That one is really popular.

I also talk about responses to disruptive students. It’s all a matter of how you talk to your students a lot of times. There is a resource as well as me just speaking about the importance of knowing how to stay calm when your students are acting out. Sometimes they can’t manage their emotions or they don’t know how to handle their emotions and so being able to talk to them in a calm way is really important.

For example, one of the prompts that I shared on my resource for this, it says instead of, “Why did you do that?” Try, “What happened? Like you’re not just saying, oh they did something, because maybe someone else did something to them and they just didn’t react correctly. But it’s just another way to use your words and get them just to be calm and not accuse them right away and just hear them out.

That is one of the great resources. Let’s see … like I said earlier, I do have breathing handouts. There is a handout that has different emotions on it, so students could use that in an art activity. They could, if they can’t really verbalize how they’re feeling, they could point and share how they’re feeling. So just a bunch of different resources that you will put in your classroom.

Tim: That’s all going to be really helpful. We’ll just encourage everybody to go check that out, just a lot of awesome learning there. Wynita, thank you so much for coming on and sharing all of those ideas and I’m glad you’re finally on the podcast, it’s been good to talk to you.

Dr. Harmon: Yeah, it was great. Thank you so much.

Tim: Thank you again to Dr. Harmon. We will share all of those resources that she and I talked about. I will share those in the show notes so you have access to them. If you are a pro member, make sure you go check out the new additions to the library. There’s a new learning pack on behavior management, there’s one on working with advanced students, and of course the social and emotional learning one that we just got done discussing. Those are all out today, those are all waiting for you in the pro library.

Then just one last bit about how you can get Art Ed Pro. Your district can actually pay for your pro membership and honestly, it’s never a bad time to ask for that. We have over 200 districts who are providing Pro to their art teachers. You know, they want everybody on that visual arts team to have access to everything that is provided. Thousands of hands on videos, thousands of resources ready for your art room, and you can earn unlimited PD hours and gain just all kinds of new and incredible strategies to incorporate into your art rooms.

You can visit That’s pro in your school with dashes in between each word. You can learn more and ask your admin if you can get Pro in your district.

All right, so I hope that some of those strategies that Dr. Harmon laid out can be beneficial to you. I hope our discussion was beneficial to you and that it maybe pushes you to check out a little bit more, learn something more, and bring it back to your kids. Because like we said, social and emotional learning is vitally important and as art teachers, we are uniquely positioned to do something about it for our kids.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art Of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you so much for listening and we will talk to you again next Tuesday.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.