Curriculum as Practice for SEL Facilitators

At Apni Shala, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process of nurturing cognitive, emotional, and behavioural wellbeing for self and society. This involves creating opportunities to learn and practice related knowledge, skills, and attitudes and creating compassionate and inclusive ecosystems for learners (Source: Apni Shala Definition).

The question in front of us is – how do we support facilitators*, who are a critical part of our students’ ecosystem, to create compassionate and inclusive ecosystems (school policies, classroom environment, inclusive facilitation/teaching practices, etc)?

Annalisa Morganti, one of the Chairs of the European Network for Social and  Emotional Competencies (ENSEC) a leading network on SEL in Europe, says “Drawing from my personal experience I think it is crucial that all higher education courses aimed at teacher training should make SEL a mandatory subject. This would also allow those who are still “green” to teach the foundation and to be already equipped with the basic competencies needed to be a socially and emotionally competent adult role model.” Samiksha, Apni Shala Fellow, adds, “when it will is in a teapot then only it can be poured into the cup.”

What does the SEL Curriculum entail at Apni Shala?

The Curriculum typically includes content (also referred to as a syllabus), assessment (how do we know SEL is being learnt) and pedagogy. The content typically refers to “what our students are learning” which may include the purpose/intentions, learning outcomes, a plan of activities, instructions and learning experiences that are designed to support individuals develop their social-emotional competencies. Apni Shala’s SEL curriculum, based on CASEL, focuses on five competencies, namely, Self-Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision- Making.

Pedagogy refers to the ways in which facilitators create diverse and differentiated learning experiences and support students in social-emotional growth through a variety of learning modules. This is further guided by educational/developmental theories such as Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Bandura, etc. To assess the impact, Curriculum also includes a variety of assessment tools (formative and summative). 

The SEL curriculum can include different elements such as self-reflection exercises, mindfulness practices, group discussions, and role-playing activities. It is typically structured to build on previous learning experiences and gradually increase in complexity. The goal of an SEL curriculum is to provide a thoughtful pathway for facilitators to support their students’ social-emotional growth. 

How are the support and development designed for facilitators at Apni Shala? 

To support Apni Shala’s SEL facilitators, in addition to a variety of support options such as lesson planning, supervision, observation & debriefs, weekly workshops are facilitated, which we call “Curriculum Gatherings”. They are by nature similar to content-training or professional development offered in many schools and organizations on themes, topics and subject areas. However, in the way they are facilitated at Apni Shala, they offer facilitators to come together and explore the themes presented in the curriculum such as managing emotions, conflict, empathy and perspective-taking. body image, responsible decision-making, addiction and much more. The gatherings are facilitated by some of the facilitators themselves who have been facilitating the curriculum with students, in partnership with the curriculum team. The structure of the gathering is such that we make our own meanings of the theme and move to a common understanding; we then move on to thinking about our own lived experiences which will guide us in our classroom sessions. 

Shared below are the intentions and the aims of Curriculum Gatherings at Apni Shala.:

Intention 1: Define the core concept covered in the theme of the SEL Curriculum across grades and Correlate the concept with modular objectives of various grade levels and age groups

As a new facilitator in the organization, and facilitating SEL for the first time, I (Puja) was nervous and scared about my ways of facilitating. I used to wonder, how sessions, other than the academic syllabus, look like? The Curriculum Gatherings changed my perspective on facilitating in schools. They have been very enriching and have shaped my facilitation style.

Curriculum Gatherings at Apni Shala look different and have many activities involved in it. Usually, when I hear the word curriculum I think that it would be boring or would include a lot of theory, but here the gatherings include ice breaker, warm up, creation, and debrief/closure, just as we do with our students! Curriculum Gatherings starts with questioning ourselves on how we will introduce Social Emotional Learning(SEL) to 4-10th grade in a variety of ways. The space also helps us brainstorm age-appropriate ways to introduce the same topic in different grades. Something, for example, will be easier to explain to 8 graders than to 4th graders, and vice versa. It gave me a clear understanding and prepared me for how I will break the term for each grade. 

I (Diksha) got an opportunity to facilitate a Curriculum Gathering on Bullying. From being a participant in these gatherings, I become a facilitator. During our planning, my colleague and I had a powerful conversation about our own experiences of bullying, a topic we were co-facilitating. When we were planning the session we came across this image as a resource. It is important before we facilitate an SEL theme that we have unpacked it for ourselves and we have clarity around this. When we were discussing this resource, we spoke about each of the small themes, we went back to our memories of school and college, we reflected and listed down those instances and spoke about times we had enabled bullying and how we were unaware of this, we spoke about the emotions it brought in us and processed it. Such a process provides our facilitators with deeper clarity on the SEL themes from across the curriculum. 

During my session in 8th grade I (Puja) asked my students, “are there any difficulties you face while taking perspective from others?” 

A student replied, “Didi, musibate toh uske upar depend karta hai kyuki sabke dekhne ka nazariya alag hota hai. Agar didi shivam class mai bole ki apni class teacher bahut achi hai sabse baat karti hai, toh udhar shayad hi shivanshu ye baat se agree kare aur mai bolu aisa kuch nhi hai tab udhar hamari perspective change hoti hai, aur hamare beech jhagda ho sakta hai.” 

This conversation made me think to work on myself. Though the topic was perspective-taking, some words or actions might trigger students at different points. Being mindful of the same and planning our sessions thoughtfully is something I find very critical.

Intention 2: Discover their own experiences with the topic and co-create a space to recognize any potential triggers and possibly find community with the facilitators in beginning the processing (so that they can work to process it before they facilitate the topic and create support for themselves)

“During one of the Curriculum Gatherings – our year-long professional development on SEL curriculum themes, we were unpacking a particular theme. The team of facilitators was sharing how different emotions visit while facilitating topics such as responsibility, bullying, gender or religion-based discrimination, and conflict. Our own lived experiences bring up so many memories and past emotions. And what’s the impact of that in that moment on our facilitation and learning space of students,” writes Shahbaan Shah, R&D Associate, in this article.

As “our students are not responsible for our healing (Rohit Kumar)”, Curriculum Gatherings   provide participants with the space to process or identify various emotional triggers, and areas/events where they have felt triggered. Following this, we are asked how we’ll process these triggers for ourselves and how we’ll respond to them when such triggers arise in classrooms. It is important to identify our triggers before going to classrooms and start managing them so effective examples can be shared during the session. 

Diksha writes, “Curriculum Gatherings gave us a space to talk about and process our triggers. while unpacking the theme to be facilitated in class, ‘decision making’ in the Curriculum Gatherings. The prompt was to list down the important decisions we made for ourselves in the last 3 months. This triggered some overwhelming emotions as I realized I couldn’t remember the last decision I made for/about myself. I realized I haven’t found many spaces or agency to make a decision on my own for a long time. When I started making decisions I realized that I was feeling very anxious. During the gathering, I was then able to process these emotions and then I was also able to identify, during the pair-share process, a list of small decisions I have been able to make for myself. This process helped in taking some of my own experiences, without feeling triggered, into the classroom.” 

Puja adds, “Curriculum gathering helped me in recognising myself in such a way that in various modules like Celebrating Uniqueness, Bullying, Communities and Co-existence, Body Image, etc is/or happened with me at some point or the other but I couldn’t think of that. For example in the module on Responsibility, the facilitator asked us to journal on the following prompts one at a time – What emotions visit us when we hear the term Responsibility? What are some reasons for those emotions to visit? What responsibility would I like to take? 

In these three prompts, I realized knowingly or unknowingly I have many responsibilities. Also from this gathering, I realized some responsibilities are accepted by me or I have taken up the responsibility like me being in class and seeing all students participating in the activities, while some responsibilities that come with the choice we make like keeping materials ready for the session, being on time, etc.”

Puja continues, “Nishant spends the night taking care of his younger brother because he stays with his relatives. He does not get time to complete his home-task given to all students after every session. When he came to the session he was scared and was not willing to participate. If I hadn’t attended the Curriculum Gathering, I may have been triggered by him not doing the task where everyone else is doing it. Unconsciously I would have made him feel like a failure for lagging behind. But during another gathering on Relationships, we had a discussion on relationships and how family relationships would play a role, which supported me to take a more whole-rounded perspective on students’ lives. 

Intention 3: Build student-friendly language (in Hindi, English and Marathi) to take these topics into the classrooms

‘Research shows that education in the mother tongue is a key factor for inclusion and quality learning, and it also improves learning outcomes and academic performance.’ (UNSCEO, 2022). In the context of our work, our students primarily speak Hindi or Marathi, with some English/Hinglish words/sentences depending upon their exposure to the language. Many of them also continue to speak many other languages at their home such as Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telugu and Gujarati. For students to be able to freely express and make meaning of their learning, it’s critical to be able to facilitate learning spaces in the languages accessible to them. We have built the curriculum and facilitation in a way that the students have space to express themselves and learn in the context preferred language.

At Apni Shala, the facilitators are assigned groups which can support students to reflect on activities and curriculum based on their preferred language along with diverse audio-visual media. This reflects in our discussion in the Curriculum Gatherings, when we think of the theme to be introduced we have discussions around how the term can be broken down in a student-friendly language that connects to their context and lived experiences.

While discussing the theme ‘Conflict’ in one of our Curriculum Gatherings; the prompt was, “if we had to introduce the theme in class then how would we go about it?”

The Hindi translation for conflict/difference of opinion is ‘matbhed’. A middle schooler would be able to understand this while a 4th grader might struggle to make meaning. Hence we came up with a word through discussion, ‘tu tu mai mai’, a word the student will be able to connect to and understand. When I introduced the theme to our class by using ‘tu tu mai mai’ and posed the question about the meaning of the word the student immediately said “didi, when my friends say ‘tu tu mai mai’ it means that one of them is angry with the other person”.

Puja shares, “In the module on Bullying, I noticed that students might get confused between the terms bullying and argument. But when I went through the Curricular lesson plan, I found an example which stated that ‘Neha and Aarya are friends. Today they are having an argument. Neha called Aarya by a mean name and Aarya also called Neha by a mean name.’ Is this bullying? No, both are acting mean and will probably be friends again, not one person hurting the other.  Such examples allowed me to build a clear understanding of the topic of bullying for the students and be able to take relevant examples into classrooms.”     

Closing Note

The Curriculum Gatherings have offered incredibly valuable experiences to us, both as participants and facilitators of the space. We have gained important skills and knowledge that have helped us not only be better at our SEL facilitation skills but also become better people, as we continue to use these skills to support and understand ourselves and others. 

Curriculum Gatherings have supported us in developing a more nuanced understanding of different SEL topics which helped us facilitate in the classroom and gave ideas on how the particular classroom will look. No two students are alike. They bring their own life experience to the classroom and share amongst the groups. Curriculum Gatherings have also helped to create a safe space amongst the students so that they can share their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

* Facilitator is referred to someone (teachers, educators, Mental Health Workers, counsellors, others) who use facilitative practices to facilitate teaching-learning and development opportunities for their participants/students. 

About the Authors:

Diksha Pandey

Diksha Pandey is a Programme Coordinator with Apni Shala. She has been facilitating sessions with adults and children of different age groups for the last 4 years. She has completed her graduation with B.Sc.(Mathematics). When she is not in the classroom you can find her reading mythology books or dancing.

Puja Surve: She is a fellow at Apni Shala. She facilitates SEL sessions in four MGCM partner schools. She has done her Masters in Human Development from SNDT Women’s University, Juhu. She loves travelling and being around young people.



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