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April 11, 2023
In March, World Learning hosted 25 teachers of English as a foreign language from outside the United States to participate in a professional educational exchange focused on integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) principles in their classrooms.
The participants were alumni of the Department of State’s Online Professional English Network program, which offers participants the opportunity to take advanced online courses and professional development programming.
Over two weeks, the group participated in workshops at World Learning’s Washington, DC, office that taught how to create a culturally and linguistically inclusive classroom and what SEL skills and values would be most effective for different contexts and populations. Learning theories and discussing how to then put them into practice was a main component of the interactive sessions that consisted of group work and a final project.
“I feel that I’m a better teacher now because I am not only thinking about my perspective as a teacher but I’m also considering students’ feelings,” Fatima-Ezzahrae Sidqi from Morocco said. “Now I understand that if students do not feel welcome in the classroom, if they are not comfortable, if there’s something bothering them, that would make learning impossible for them. Their affective filter will be high, so they will not learn anything.”
The participants came from all different countries and varied in years of teaching experience and familiarity with SEL. Hearing and learning from their fellow colleagues was a crucial component to their learning process as they put new principles into practice together. This included doing so not just for their students, but for their own daily well-being as teachers.
“Instead of the instructor talking a lot, we all talked about the activities that we usually do whenever we feel stress,” said Saw Ehta Ler from Myanmar. “It is marvelous, especially hearing different activities that we do for our well-being. It actually gave me new insight.”
While the program explored and taught the importance and impact of social and emotional well-being, it also provided specific teaching tools and strategies to implement SEL in the classroom. Participants explored ways SEL can be integrated into English lessons, using techniques such as bibliotherapy, a creative arts therapy that involves storytelling or the reading of specific supportive literature. Through micro-teaching activities, participants practiced the techniques and reflected together.
Outside of their classroom sessions, the participants took site visits to the TESOL International Headquarters, Casa Chirilagua Community Center, a community college, and a middle school.They also experienced visits with host families, which provided another unique cultural immersion opportunity for reflection.
“Using restorative practices and supporting the participants’ personal well-being was an integral part of the exchange experience,” said Dr. Kara McBride, a senior technical education specialist at World Learning. “This allows participants to experience activities as students do, which works with our experiential approach. But just as important, teachers can only teach social and emotional skills that they too possess. And knowing these skills also helps them manage their own stress and prevent burnout.”
In a survey conducted following the exchange, 96 percent of the participants indicated that the program substantially improved their understanding of SEL. And all the participants said that their ability to implement SEL-specific strategies and activities had improved.
“I’m definitely going to integrate all of these things that I have learned here in my classroom,” Sidqi said. “For example, mindful breathing as a warm-up activity [in the beginning of the class]. You only need those few steps and simple actions to start integrating SEL in your classroom.”
Collectively, the group felt the exchange will make them more effective teachers.
“World Learning is a place that changed who I am and helped my career,” Ehta Ler said.