The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning This Fall (Ep. 228)

When we return to school this year, social and emotional learning will be of vital importance to our students. Today’s guest, Jonathan Juravich, has a number of ideas on how we can incorporate SEL into our art teaching. Listen as he talks to Tim about building relationships, culture and curriculum, and how we can help ourselves as we head back to school. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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

At the risk of overstating the obvious, we are not sure what this fall is going to look like when we had back to school, district to district, city to city, state to state, it’s all going to be very different, but I think one thing that is going to remain vital, no matter your situation, is the importance of social and emotional learning. We can make a pretty convincing argument that SEL is going to be what we need to prioritize, and we can also make a pretty convincing argument that the arts do social emotional learning better than any other subject area. So, today we’re going to discuss the importance of social and emotional learning, talk about how we implement it within our teaching, and how we can communicate with our administrators about everything we do and everything we will be doing. My guest today is Jonathan Juravich, an incredible teacher who has been on the show many times before. He is a familiar voice and a voice that is uniquely qualified to speak on all of these issues. So let me bring him on right now.

Joining me now is Jonathan Juravich. Jonathan, welcome back. How are you?

I mean, how are any of us, right? But thank you, I am doing well. I’m excited to be here today.

Tim: Good. Well, I am excited to have you back and yeah, it’s tough to say how any of us are doing right now, but I guess before we kind of start on the topic, can you catch us up on just everything that’s been happening with you? Can you maybe share a little bit about your PBS show that you have developed that’s airing now?

Jonathan: Yeah, so, well over a year ago, I started working with WOSU, which is the local PBS affiliate here in Columbus, Ohio. We started dreaming up the concept for this show, called Drawing With Mr. J, which, well, that’s me, right? So, and the idea that came out of this was that we were going to film these short episodes that are about three minutes long that start with like a goofy prompt. One of them is a fruit dance party, right? Then it’s kind of like the Trojan horse of emotions, right? So we talk about a fruit dance party, but then as I’m drawing along with the kids, we started to have discussions about how they’re feeling and talking about their emotions and the things that they experience. At the end, I always end each episode by saying, “Use your drawing to talk to a parent or a trusted adult about your emotions.”

It’s been incredible because it rolled out … this digital format rolled out right before we all went into quarantines and distance learning, and so it became a resource that art teachers started to use, as well as classroom teachers, because it was available. It’s available for free. Here’s the plug, right? At, but it’s available for free, and then to have an arts activity that also ties back to these huge discussions about social and emotional learning. Then, each episode, which again is only like three and a half minutes long, comes with a companion guide where we pair books and activities and discussion questions so that teachers of all content areas could use it, as well as parents. So, we have six of the eight episodes from this first grant that are posted, and soon we’re going to finish up the last two, as well as a couple shorter videos and see where it takes us from there. Yeah. A year ago, who would have known, right?

Tim: Right. Right. Well, but you mentioned how so many people are looking for resources right now and looking for ways to kind of take on these topics. So I guess I want to ask you just, why is social and emotional learning so important right now?

Jonathan: Well, we all have emotions and feelings. We all have them, but it’s really hard to begin those conversations about how we are feeling. Think about what you asked me at the beginning of this podcast. Right? I was like, “Uh, how am I doing?”

Tim: Right.

Jonathan: I don’t know, but we all have emotions and these feelings. Even though they can be really challenging to talk about, we have to talk about them because these feelings are information about how we make sense of the world, how we’re interacting with other people, how we feel about ourselves or a particular moment in time, especially important right now, because we’ve spent a lot of time inside, indoors, with the people that live within the walls of our home. Learning again to understand what it’s like to have these relationships with people outside of our homes is really important. A lot of things have happened. A lot has been going on, with the coronavirus, with Black Lives Matter movement or discussions about race. All of those topics are feeding into our understandings of the world, and so it’s important that we talk about them. Like I said, with our PBS show, it’s important to start that conversation sometimes with the drawing.

Tim: That gets me thinking about the next thing I wanted to ask you about, just kind of how we can deal with these things, how we can bring up these discussions in our classrooms, because nobody knows what it’s going to look like in the fall. We know that schools are not going to be back to normal, but what do you think we’ll need to do, no matter what the situation is like? What will we need to do as teachers? What will we need to be prioritizing when we go back into the classrooms?

Jonathan: I think the very first thing that we need to do is to take a beat, like to take a breath, because I am a parent of two young kids. I am the primary caretaker of them and have been through our distance learning and then into the summer. So, in many ways, it hasn’t felt like that normal, typical summer where you take even one day just to like refresh. So, and I know that that’s challenging. There’s so many things that we want to stay on top of, especially professionally, but if we’re going to talk about our students’ social and emotional wellbeing, we also have to address our own. Whether that is taking a moment to go on a really nice long walk or a bike ride, or for me running, whatever that is, we have to make sure that throughout this summer, as we lead into the next school year, that we are taking that moment to breathe, even as we are constantly aware that we don’t know what the school year is going to look like, right? There is literally a ton of different possibilities for what this could look like in the fall.

I think that what we need to prioritize, after we kind of check ourselves, is that we really need to focus on those relationships and our relationships with our students, as well as our relationships with our peers, because in many cases, we’ve seen them on video calls, but we haven’t really had that personal connection with our peers. Some people, some of the teachers we work with and staff members, are going to want to get right back to work. They’re like, “It is time to work,” and that’s kind of their way of processing and dealing with everything that’s going on. Yet, there’s going to be those people that are like, “I need to spend time talking about all of my emotions, all of my feelings.” We are going to have to be prepared to kind of wade the waters and go in between those spaces of those two different types of people and then everybody in between.

I guess for me, it depends on the day, what kind of person I am. So I think it’s that self-realization. Realize, yourself, how you are going to be coming into the next school year. Take those moments to put yourself in check, but then also to remember that those relationships with our peers are equally as important as our relationships with our students, and that is our priority, right? Making sure that our students feel that this place is safe, even as we figure out what it looks like on a day-to-day basis, and then giving them opportunities to build those relationships like we always do in our classrooms. I think what’s interesting is I haven’t been able to really see my students because of the way that we had things set up.

I created videos. I sent them out into the world. Some of them watched them, they submitted lessons back or artwork back to me, but I haven’t really been able to have discussions with my students like I have in the past. I think that that’s going to be a really important thing for me personally, going back into whatever my art curriculum and classroom look like in the coming year is to again, make space for those discussions. I know several teachers who are like, “How am I going to get to this material or this concept or this … ” but for me, I think it’s going back to, “Hey, again, a lot has happened in your life. Let’s take a minute for that.”

Tim: Well, and can we talk about curriculum for just a second?

Jonathan: Yeah, let’s do that.

Tim: Because, as you’ve been saying, and I think as we all know, as art teachers, the arts are incredibly powerful when it comes to building relationships, when it comes to helping with social and emotional learning. So I guess when we’re looking at what we’re going to teach, is it more about media? Is it more about emotions and relationships? What role do you see the arts playing when we get back to school? What role do you think art teachers should be playing when we return?

Jonathan: Boom, that is such a crazy … there are so many responses I could give you. So, in many ways, I believe that the arts within our schools help to provide … our buildings, culture, and environment, right? So our buildings, culture, and the environment that we have for each of our individual schools is really supported by our visual arts and our music programs, and so I think it’s important that we continue to highlight the great stuff that is happening within our curriculum, whether it, again, be the stuff of relationships, social emotional learning, or media exploration.

There’s many ways that we can do that, including the power of social media. So, I think that that is an important role that we do play and that we have to be aware of, that we are the ones that are helping to support this culture that exists within our schools, but yeah, curriculum … that is such an interesting million dollar question, because as schools and districts and teachers are beginning to consider, “Will I be in my classroom or will I be on a cart? Will I be able to have common materials or will I be taking all of my classroom crayons and putting them in individuals at black baggies and putting your name on it so that you use it every week?” There are so many ways that your head could spin just by thinking about those answers.

One of the things that I want to do is that I am the department chair for elementary art for our district, and I work with 17 elementary art teachers. One of the things that we decided is that Zoom calls have been great, but they’ve also been really challenging sometimes. So, we’ve talked about creating a socially distant PD time, later in the summer, where we’re in someone’s backyard spaced very far apart, masks, but being able to sit down together and have these discussions about what this looks like for our district in particular, because I think that it’s important that you understand the context of your students, what resources you have available, and also what’s happened in your community.

Let’s speak very frankly. Again, there’s been a lot that has happened and some of our communities are reeling from pain and hurts and also from loss, great loss. Some of the kids coming back into our schools aren’t necessarily worried about if they’re going to get to use clay this year, because they lost a family member to COVID. So, these are things that we have to be very aware of as the teachers in the room and it’s weighty. I’ve got all the chills right now just kind of thinking about this, but these are important considerations that we have to make, is that we are sensitive and aware of what’s going on in our kids’ lives. I just said so many things to you that are a part of curriculum considerations, but this is rabbit hole.

Tim: Yeah. It’s so much more, and that’s kind of the dilemma, I guess, is none of us know how to navigate this. None of us know exactly where going or what we’re doing this fall. I guess I wanted to ask you, kind of on a related note to that, as we try to navigate this, how we get support from our administrators, from our buildings. So I guess the question would be like, what do you think administrators need to know about art teachers, about what we do? For teachers, how should they ask for support? How can administrators support their teachers as we go back and forth as we try to navigate all of this together?

Jonathan: Right. I am part of our district’s back to school committee, where I am helping to discuss, what does it look like to go back to school? What do schedules look like? I do think it’s important that they have an art educator that is a part of those discussions. Most of the time I have those discussions about schedules and stuff with a very generalist hat on, because I am representing all the teachers in our district too, but there have been moments where I’ll say, “Okay, so as the art teacher, I need to ask this question or to pose this challenge.” I think that that’s kind of what our administrators need to know is, what do our lives look like? What do our teaching lives look like?

I’ve heard from many art teachers that like, “Oh, my principal doesn’t understand what I do. Or a classroom teacher maybe doesn’t understand what I do.” Well, how do you fix that? You talk to them, you inform them, you create a relationship where you say, “Hey, I have a question for you about what this could look like.” So, in many ways, I think starting with administrators talking about, “This is what my world has looked like in the past and then these are the questions I have as we move forward,” because some administrators are on the ball with this and are really excited to work with our art teachers, and some just don’t know what they don’t know, but I think that the key with that is having a conversation that is honest and calm and rational, which I know can be a challenge because we are passionate people. We are, about what we teach, about our students, about our materials, about our curriculums, but if we can take a moment to just, again, take that breath and to approach administrators, understand that we’re all coming to this with the best intentions for the students and for our staff members. So I think that that’s critical that we come to them with, “This is what my life looked like. What does it look like as we move forward?”

Yeah. So, I think that that’s … I’ve had a couple art teachers reach out to me and they’ve been really challenged by potential schedules that they’ve seen. One of the lines that I said to two different teachers was, “Ask your principal about this schedule and explain your capacity to be able to pull this off.” I think that that phrase, capacity, encompasses so many things, whether it encompasses a bathroom break, your own physical restrictions that you might have, your capacity to do all the planning for all of those grade levels in one day. So I think that that terminology is one that I think is important for us to use, as long as then we can follow up with “This is what I mean by that.”

Tim: Yeah. A clear explanation is, I think, warranted and probably appreciated by administrators as well when these conversations are happening. So, I’m going to put you on the spot here for one last question. Just to wrap things up, what is your best advice for teachers as we start looking, over the next couple of months, at what our classroom is going to look like, at what our teaching is going to look? As we move into the fall, what advice would you give to everyone?

Jonathan: I think it’s that this is not a sprint. This is definitely a marathon. I’m a marathon runner, so I love those, but for those of you that don’t, in the past, we’ve had conversations as a elementary art department about like, “Oh no, this year I only got to this many art making experiences versus last year when I got to this many” or “My art show in the spring, I only have this many displays based off of two years ago when I had … ” and all of that, maybe this is good, that we can just put that aside. We cannot compare the year behind us to the year in front of us to two years down the road. So in many cases, I think it’s allowing ourselves to slow down, to take a beat, and to really focus on what are the priorities for you as an art educator, as well as the context of your school environment, like I had mentioned before.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and what does that look like for my students coming back? What are the considerations specifically for them that I really need to focus on? I think that that’s going to be important for me to do throughout the rest of the summer at a slow pace, right? I don’t need to figure out what this looks like tomorrow. Again, learning kind of the new norm for this fall, but we don’t know. We could have three different modes of teaching within the next year, and just kind of taking a breath, reaching out to fellow art educators, I think is really important. I think that the other thing to remember is that this is not a forever. This is for now. I don’t know what the for now, how long that is. You don’t either.

Tim: None of us do.

Jonathan: None of us do, but there’s some things that we can learn from this moment that are really powerful and that can support us as we move forward with whatever our art curriculums and our art programs look like moving forward.

Tim: Yeah. Very well said. All right, well, Jonathan, thank you so much for joining me for all of the wonderful advice. We really appreciate you coming on.

Jonathan: Well, thank you.

Tim: It is always entertaining to talk to Jonathan. If you want to hear more from him, we will link to previous podcast episodes as well as his PBS show that he discussed. More importantly, he will be talking about social and emotional learning live at the Now conference on July 30th. As you know, Now is my favorite professional development of the entire year. We have a lot of topics that we need to cover as we head into the fall and I think the conference is the perfect place to do that. Peter Reynolds will be there. Contemporary artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh will be there. We have 20 other art teachers sharing strategies, sharing ideas, sharing lessons, sharing so much more. You will not want to miss it.

Also, we have something new that we’re cooking up. We have a little bit of a preconference party that we’re going to try and do the night before. I’m very, very excited about that idea as well. So, we should have some more information coming soon if you’ve not seen that already, but anyway, you can go to the Art of Education University to see all of the information you need to know about the conference. Come join us on July 30th. It is a great experience. It is great to be amongst a community of art educators for the day, talking about ideas that are specific to us, talking about strategies that are specific to our classroom, and all of the important things that we’re going to be doing this fall. All right, we will be back next week with our full conference preview, in case you weren’t already excited enough. We’ll talk to you then.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Next week, like I said, is Now conference week. I am incredibly excited. I hope you join us for the podcast on Tuesday, as well as the conference on Thursday. We will talk to you then.

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.