Have you ever taught without incorporating Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)? The what of curriculum is very important, but the how is crucial for guaranteeing that learning happens. Due to all the changes in our world, there has been an increased focus on the need to be sure that the social/emotional needs of students are met. Every time a new idea for meeting those needs appears, I realize that many teachers have been incorporating those practices for a very long time. Many of the social and emotional needs of our students in Christian-based schools are met as we also attend to the spiritual well-being of each individual.

We work to welcome all students into our community as part of our family. Our school has a mission statement that we use to drive everything that we do. Our mission statement includes the goals of working as a community and fostering Christ-like qualities in every aspect of our activities: spiritual, academic, physical, emotional, and social. We have always worked to help each child feel valued, to support those who are hurting, and to work together as a learning community. These practices allow our students to feel safe and confident enough to learn. We incorporate valuing each other as God values us: each individual is unique, all people are important, and we are all forgiven in order to have repeated fresh starts.

For years, before the great importance of Social-Emotional Learning became a focus in light of recent pandemic protocols and blatant examples of inequities seen throughout our world, we have been addressing these needs in our schools because we have a Christian focus. God is very concerned for our social and emotional well-being. He created us to be beings that live and thrive in relationships. He also loved us enough to do the best social-emotional teaching that exists. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be a model for us here on earth. Jesus showed us how to live in love the way God intends for us to live. When we use Bible study as a foundation for all the learning we do, we are addressing all the core competencies of Social-Emotional Learning: self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, self-management, and relationship skills. The Bible tells us that we are precious creations with a purpose to fulfill. The Bible offers many examples of individuals who were socially aware, made responsible decisions, managed themselves and their relationships. It also shows us plenty of examples of those who did not use good social-emotional skills and the consequences of living without healthy social-emotional foundations.

In continuing to include activities that make the education of our schools Christian in nature, we naturally include the best social-emotional learning that exists. I would encourage all of us to continue to address the needs of all of the students God sends to us. It is important to find ways to support and integrate God’s Word into all of our curriculum. When we set our minds and purpose on Biblical truths, we will continue to address the social and emotional needs of our students in the best ways possible. Students will learn to see themselves and others as God’s creation with a purpose. In learning to share feelings and honoring each other, they will be able to be engaged in collaborative and interactive learning. We will be most successful in helping students reach the desired outcomes of our curriculum when we continue to focus on the ways we help students become aware of themselves as children of God, socially aware of others as fellow members of the body of Christ, and decision-makers that consider Biblical principles in making choices. When we all rely on help from God to develop self-management and relationship skills, we will be able to form learning communities in which students can achieve their full learning potential.

As we continue to strive to develop curricula that help to develop individuals who will thrive and contribute to making our world a better place, I am thankful that there is a continued focus on meeting the foundational social and emotional needs of students in order to provide the best academic learning possible. This is not a new concept, but it is a very important one.

Now serving in her 40th year of teaching at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran School, Judy Friesenhahn has served as a teacher in many different grade levels and subject areas. Her passion is teaching. She enjoys finding ways to meet the needs of each individual student and helping all students to be successful. Her current roles include 6th grade homeroom teacher, teaching a variety of subjects in grades 6 through 8, ordering curriculum materials, maintaining inventory of materials, and working with curriculum development. She has a devoted husband and loving family who allow her to dedicate a large amount of time to her ministry as a teacher.