Social-Emotional Learning in Your Work Team

Which squirrel are you today? If that question means nothing to you, you probably haven’t seen the “squirrel scale” – a fun check-in tool used by some schools during remote learning. I was reminded of this tool recently while working with a group of middle and high school teachers, during a workshop focused on building community in the classroom. Of course, the squirrel scale is just one of an vast array of similar playful check-in images, but the end result is that many teachers are still using these kinds of tools even as schools (here in the US, at least) meet in-person. Many teachers are also incorporating games and creative exercises which encourage students to express their unique perspectives, life experiences, and reflections. These are all examples of “social-emotional learning” put into practice. While teachers are often faced with difficult choices to try and fit their curriculum into the time they have with students each week, it might seem counter-intuitive to take time out for a check-in like this – much less to spend 20 minutes on a game! – the group that I worked with expressed more than once what a difference it makes for them. Why? And how might this be useful for a team in the workplace?

The group of teachers talked about the “never-ending forced flexibility” that the last two years has brought for them and for their students, which applies to each and every one of us too, whether you’re affiliated with a school in any way or not. And while social-emotional learning (SEL) has been a component in an increasing number of schools over the last few decades – with a 2011 report finding a correlation between SEL and strong academic improvement – schools have found SEL tools invaluable in supporting students through this “never-ending forced flexibility.” If students aren’t given ways to express their emotions and experiences in a supportive environment, these will often come out in ways that are disruptive instead, potentially derailing a class. But taking the time to engage in a fun teamwork activity – unrelated to work – not only builds authentic community and brings joy and laughter; it also serves to “sharpen the axe,” enabling the team to work more effectively on the work ahead.

Of course, the workplace is not a school. Your colleagues are not your students. And yet, some of the value that these teachers report might also be useful for you and your team. You might find it worth taking time to sharpen the axe of your team. So if you haven’t already, take another look at the squirrel scale and choose which one represents how you feel today.

How might the squirrel scale and social-emotional learning be useful in your team this week?

This Week’s Tip:

Consider check-in tools and activities that might sharpen the axe of your team.

  1. If you manage a team and/or lead group meetings: Use the squirrel scale or another fun visual scale to kick off a team meeting, and ask each person which one they identify with in the moment; allow room for someone to share as much as they’d like, but keep this light and breezy. Consider pairing up team members for one-on-one discussions prior to large group discussions (we’ll talk about this more in a future post). Use some of our free resources, or be in touch for more – we’re happy to help!
  2. If you do not lead a team: Pay attention to your own reactions this week. If you notice something “off,” spend some time pushing into that. Use some open-ended questions on yourself, or ask someone you trust to ask them for you. If it feels safe to share what you are thinking about in a team meeting, try it! You may be surprised by the results, and it might lead to a deepening of team relationships.

Try these out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear what you learn about yourself and others as you do.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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