Skip to main content

Social-emotional learning crews in the classroom

elizabeth-hagen.jpgMinnesota's 2013 teacher of the year works at Open World Learning (OWL) Community, a school that incorporates social and emotional learning (SEL) into every class. Megan Olivia Hall teaches science to seventh- to twelfth-graders at OWL. I spoke with her about the strategies they use to help young people develop SEL skills.

LIZ HAGEN: How is social emotional learning taught at OWL?

MEGAN OLIVIA HALL: Our school has identified five non-cognitive skills, or "habits of work and learning," to promote.

These skills are integrity, perseverance, responsibility, collaboration, and stewardship. We exercise the skills in an advisory class called Crew, after Kurt Hahn's saying, "We are Crew, not passengers." Crew is a safe, low-stakes environment in which kids can actively learn and practice these skills. Crew is a multi-age class including students in grades 6-12, where students may remain with the same Crew leader for up to seven years. Conferences and parent communication are channeled through Crew leaders, who serve as touchstones for parents and advocates for students. Crew meets for 30 minutes every school day. This set-up fosters caring and consistent relationships between teachers and students, as well as between students.

LH: How do these lessons fit with regular classroom instruction?

MOH: School-wide teaching practices and behaviorCrew-Compassion-Chain.jpg policies serve to promote and reinforce the skills first practiced in Crew. For example, one of the skills that best correlates with academic and lifelong achievement is collaboration. Collaborative work is highly valued in the workplace, yet many students express extreme frustration when faced with group projects in school. The promotion and development of collaborative skills mitigates frustration and prepares students to be effective colleagues in the world beyond school.

LH: So what does that actually look like in the classroom?

MOH: A particularly challenging collaboration sub-skill OWL students face is accepting personal differences so that they can work with any of their peers. A series of Crew team-building games helps students take on assigned group roles, solicit the opinions of group members, and work toward group goals. In academic classes, teachers often assign roles to students working in groups. Students who have previously fulfilled roles in collaborative groups playing card games, untying impossibly knotted ropes, and crossing imaginary shark-infested oceans have experiences that transfer to roles in collaborative groups conducting science experiments and constructing historical timelines.

LH: Besides Crew, is there anything else you see as especially important for supporting SEL?

MOH: James Comer said, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." The foundation of a positive, trusting student-teacher relationship is essential in social and emotional learning. For a student to exercise and develop in the affective sphere, she must feel safe and supported. Teachers can establish and deepen positive student-teacher relationships by addressing students by name, greeting students individually, answering student questions, honoring students' home cultures with respectful curiosity, and providing help when students ask for it.
Does your youth program have components similar to Crew? What other strategies do you use for fostering consistent and caring relationships between youth workers and the young people they serve?

-- Elizabeth Hagen, graduate research assistant for the Howland Social and Emotional Learning Initiative, doctoral candidate in school psychology

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Thanks Liz and Megan - I love this real world example of intentional SEL development! I also appreciate that it underscores the importance of consistent and caring relationships between program staff and participants. To read more about this work, see Megan’s issue brief, “Promoting and Developing Social and Emotional Skills in the Secondary Classroom” available at


Post a Comment