4 Transformative K-12 Learning Spaces to Nurture SEL
- August 28, 2023
- Sean Downey
Author: Dr. Christina Counts
When implementing a social emotional learning program in your school, choosing a quality curriculum isn’t the only consideration for creating an effective program––developing K-12 learning spaces to nurture SEL is also a key part of advancing students’ learning and development.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has gained prominence as an essential aspect of education, equipping students with critical life skills that extend far beyond the classroom. To facilitate this important learning, educators must reimagine traditional learning spaces, creating environments that foster self-awareness, empathy, and healthy interpersonal relationships.
To help you imagine how to transform your own learning spaces to nurture social and emotional learning, here are four innovative ideas for K-12 learning spaces that actively support SEL:
Creating a reading nook can provide a solitary retreat for literary exploration, while also acting as a powerful tool for nurturing SEL. By curating a selection of books that focus on emotions, empathy, and relationships, educators can create a space where students not only read but also engage in meaningful discussions. When students read stories that highlight characters’ emotional journeys, they develop empathy through understanding diverse perspectives and emotions.
Comfortable lounge seating, floor seat cushions, and warm lighting transform this space into an inviting sanctuary that encourages emotional vulnerability. A comfortable and welcoming space also facilitates open dialogues, allowing students to express their thoughts and feelings and helping them grow their communication skills and emotional articulation.
Makerspaces are traditionally associated with creativity and STEM learning, but their potential for SEL is often overlooked. By transforming a makerspace into a collaborative hub, educators can nurture emotional intelligence and foster teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Flexible furniture arrangements, such as mobile tables and versatile seating, empower students to engage with complex topics that explore emotions, ethical quandaries, and interpersonal connections. Additionally, collaborative tables and marker boards give students a space to participate in group projects and present their findings to their peers. These flexible and collaborative furnishings encourage students to work together, facilitating the development of relationship-building skills.
Among the stresses of school and the pressures of life, mindfulness is a crucial skill for managing stress, developing emotional regulation, and enhancing overall well-being. To support SEL, educators can guide students through mindfulness exercises and journaling activities.
Designing a dedicated mindfulness corner within the learning space offers students an oasis where they can learn and practice techniques to ground themselves and manage their emotions. Comfortable floor cushions, soothing colors, and simple accents like plants or fidget toys create an environment that promotes relaxation, allowing students to decompress. A mindfulness corner provides a safe space that empowers students to recognize their emotions, identify their triggers, and manage their reactions effectively.
Art is a powerful medium for self-expression and communication. An art studio that promotes emotional exploration can contribute to an effective SEL program. Filled with a variety of art supplies and comfortable workstations, an art studio can encourage students to create art that reflects their emotions, identity, and relationships. Through artistic expression, students develop self-awareness by exploring their feelings and thoughts in a variety of mediums. Additionally, collaborative projects prompt students to consider their peers’ perspectives, fostering empathy and enhancing their ability to connect on an emotional level. These spaces can utilize bin storage systems and standing desks to encourage active creativity while maintaining an organized, relaxed environment.
SEL is at the heart of a holistic transformation of student learning and development. As educators continue to recognize the interconnectedness of emotional well-being and academic success, the creation of these dynamic SEL learning spaces is key. Through the strategic design of learning spaces, educators can facilitate the growth of social emotional skills and create an atmosphere where students feel safe to express themselves, connect with their peers, and embark on a journey of self-discovery. These SEL spaces extend beyond basic classroom environments, providing nurturing ecosystems that facilitate the exploration of emotions, encourage open dialogue, and foster healthy relationships.
Dr. Christina Counts, ALEP, VP of Education for MiEN Environments, is a proven leader with a successful background in transforming learning spaces into modern engaging learning environments. Dr. Counts has worked in education for over 17 years with experience as a classroom teacher, district instructional leader, school administrator, and digital and innovative learning designer. In her most recent position, Christina leads a team of professionals that support schools making the transition to a flexible, collaborative, & student-centered learning space. She holds a doctorate in K-12 Educational Leadership, National Board-certified, and Google & Apple certified. Dr. Counts envisions a learning space in which educators are empowered to transform education through design, technology and innovative instructional pedagogy to create learners ready for any future!