SEL for School Leaders: 5 Strategies for Fostering Your Team’s Emotional Intelligence (Part 1 of 3)

This is part of our series in partnership with leaders in Virginia City Public Schools, on how leaders can foster the psychological safety and well-being of staff.

Every decision we make in our schools has to go back to the question: How is this going to impact the students we are charged with every single day? And the fact is, the emotional well-being of leaders and teachers directly impacts the well-being of our communities and students.

School leaders like you have been running nonstop since this pandemic started. You’re doing so much to support your students’ social emotional needs, but there aren’t as many resources out there about supporting the emotional needs of the adults on your team.

We work in Virginia Beach City Public Schools, in the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation. For years, we’ve been focusing on social emotional learning, built on the foundations put forward by CASEL, and we’ve been sharing leadership inspiration since the pandemic started, highlighting strategies for school leaders that strengthen your school community. 

We are excited to partner with #PrincipalProject in hopes of connecting more leaders with these SEL strategies. 

In this post, you’ll find five strategies to build up the emotional intelligence of your staff – and your teachers can then turn around and use these approaches to support the emotional needs of their students. We hope you’ll find an idea you can lean on in your daily work or bring into your next staff meeting to let teachers know you care and that you’re there to support them, whatever the rest of this school year may bring. 

— Dr. Paulette France, Dr. Janene Gorham and Ms. Anna Surratt, Office of Professional Growth and Innovation, Virginia Beach City Public Schools


Educators

  • Emotional Intelligence Charters

    Dr. Paulette France, Dr. Janene Gorham & Ms. Anna Surratt

  • Boundaries

    Dr. Paulette France, Dr. Janene Gorham & Ms. Anna Surratt

  • Storytelling

    Dr. Paulette France, Dr. Janene Gorham & Ms. Anna Surratt

  • Hopes and Fears

    Dr. Paulette France, Dr. Janene Gorham & Ms. Anna Surratt

  • HALT

    Dr. Paulette France, Dr. Janene Gorham & Ms. Anna Surratt

Emotional Intelligence Charters

Research shows that teachers who work in a school with a leader who has more advanced emotional skills tend to experience fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions. These teachers are also more likely to have better relationships with their students. 

You can improve the emotional climate of your school by inviting your staff to put their emotional needs in writing. Call a meeting to create a charter or agreement that answers the questions: How do we want to feel as a staff? What do we need to do for everyone to feel this way? Conclude by discussing and listing specific actions staff members need to take to support the emotional environment you want to create. Publish and share the completed agreement among staff.

More resources:

Learn more about building a charter in How to Support Teachers’ Emotional Needs Right Now and discover ideas for navigating difficulty in the article Handling Negative Emotions in a Way that’s Good for Your Team.

Boundaries

The current work-from-home situation can lead to feelings of being frazzled, stressed and anxious. Assist with your staff’s work-life integration by directly discussing the importance of setting boundaries. By prioritizing this publicly, you may give “permission” to teachers who haven’t yet set prioritized setting boundaries for themselves. Make sure to model boundary-setting in your own work, too. 

For example, you might share that you’re trying not to send and respond to emails after 6 p.m. and on the weekends, and invite team members to share how they’ve sought to create a productive physical space within their homes for work. 

More resources:

Consider emailing your team this piece on 10 benefits of boundary setting and AARP’s five steps for setting boundaries.

Storytelling

Culture is what makes an organization strong and able to survive under the most challenging conditions. Taking the time to build and maintain a strong, positive culture is one of the most important things a leader can do. 

The stories that team members hear and retell about themselves can play a key role in building culture. Through storytelling, leaders help fuel connection, increase understanding and enhance the sense of unity around common purposes. Reinforce the culture, core values and expectations of your organization by integrating positive storytelling into your meetings and interactions. 

For example, each week, you could share a story about a staff member’s positive impact on the school or community, either in meetings, on social media or in a newsletter.

More resources: 

Learn more about the power of storytelling by reading this article on the power of storytelling to strengthen culture, by exploring this article on organization culture and by watching a short video on leadership storytelling by David Hutchens.

Hopes and Fears

Are you or your team experiencing regression or fatigue from responding with urgency to the crisis of the pandemic over so many months? Move your team from a “when-will-this-end?” mindset to a “how-can-we?” mindset with the “Fears and Hopes” protocol, inviting staff to share and debrief on what their greatest hopes and fears are for the remainder of the school year. Use the resulting conversation as an opportunity for collaborative dialogue intended to address expectations, mitigate concerns and help staff members feel seen and heard.  

For example, when discussing transitions to in-person learning, you might take time to acknowledge the dissonance between a hoped-for future, where everyone feels safe, and the very real and ongoing fears many staff and students are facing. Your meeting might begin with the questions: “In terms of health and safety, what do we hope will be true over the next several months? What are our greatest fears about the way the transition could unfold?” You can invite individuals to post ideas and then transition to a brainstorming session with the guiding question, “What ideas do you have that will move us toward our goals while addressing our fears?” 

More resources: 

Find the “Fears and Hopes” protocol here. Read this article about “disrupting disruption” to help your team move forward.

HALT

If you are feeling out of balance, pause to assess your levels of hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness:

H – Hunger. When was the last time I ate? What did I eat?

A – Anger. What has triggered me to feel angry?

L – Loneliness. When was the last time I made a positive, face-to-face connection with someone?

T – Tiredness. How much sleep am I averaging each night?

This strategy supports overall physical and mental health and increases self-awareness and self-regulation. Encourage teachers on your team to use the strategy themselves and to share it with students. Assisting students in identifying their needs empowers both you and the students to make positive decisions and can increase relational trust. 

More resources: 

Consider the science behind the HALT strategy as one for increasing self-management and self-awareness, completing goals, and combating unhealthy habits. Read more about the importance of self-awareness and self-management in creating healthy schools.