Fostering a Sense of Belonging: Inclusive Practices for Social-Emotional Learning in School Libraries
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools. Social-emotional learning refers to the skills, attitudes, and values that enable students to understand and manage their emotions, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. School libraries are uniquely positioned to support social-emotional learning by providing students with access to diverse resources and creating a safe and welcoming environment.
Below are just a few examples that explore how we can foster a sense of belonging in school libraries through inclusive practices for social-emotional learning. This blog is meant as an introduction, but if you would like to learn more about embedding SEL in the library, please consider listening to my podcast episode with School Librarians United, read my article with Perspectives in Reading, or try out activities with Microsoft Flip outlined in my blog article here.
Barriers to Inclusion in School Libraries
Before we can explore strategies for fostering a sense of belonging in school libraries, it is important to understand the barriers that can prevent students from feeling included. Barriers can include:
2 Strategies for Identifying Barriers
Ideas for Supporting Social-Emotional Learning in the School Library
Offer Diverse and Culturally Relevant Resources
One of the most effective ways to support social-emotional learning in school libraries is by offering a range of resources that represent diverse perspectives and experiences. This includes books, resources, programming, how we display books, book recommendations, and even pictures on flyers that celebrate different cultures and traditions and perspectives. By providing access to diverse and culturally relevant resources, school libraries can help students develop empathy, respect, and a deeper understanding of themselves and others.
Tip: Consider collaborating with a local community group or cultural organization to bring in guest speakers or to organize events that celebrate diversity and inclusion. Here is an example of my monthly program planner that helps me plan out these events.
Another way to embed SEL in your school library is through student-led programming. We have a Student Library Board that assists and leads in all aspects of our program. I have seen SEL supported through:
Tip: Use your MakerSpace to coordinate student-interest based MakerCare (or Compassionate Making) programs. For example, we sew blankets for cancer patients with our health care students and our volunteer students sew 'Huggers' for children in domestic abuse shelters to help ease their worries.
Create Safe and Welcoming Spaces
School libraries can support social-emotional learning by creating safe and welcoming spaces where students feel comfortable and supported. This might include designating a quiet area for students who need to take a break or practice mindfulness, or creating a cozy reading nook with comfortable seating and soft lighting. By creating a safe and welcoming environment, school libraries can help students feel valued and supported in their emotional and social development.
Tip: Create a sensory corner with comfortable beanbag chairs and soft lighting for students who need a quiet space to relax and regroup. Include activities like coloring or puzzles as a way to help students de-stress and unwind. Here is a list of items we have in our mindfulness corner.
Collaborate with Other Departments
Instructional Partnerships are an essential part of any school library program, so consider partnering with other school departments to promote social-emotional learning. This might include collaborating with the counseling department to offer resources on stress management or working with the art department to create displays that celebrate diversity and inclusion.
Tip: Consider hosting an art show or display for Women's History Month that showcases how we perceive empowerment or host a poetry slam for Black History Month and collaborate with your English classes on how poetry has been a powerful tool for expression in the Black community. Host a book club with the counseling department or collaborate with the technology department to create a social media campaign that promotes positivity and kindness.
Build Relationships with Students
Finally, the most crucial in fostering a sense of belonging and embedding SEL is building relationships with students. Library staff should make an effort to get to know each student and understand their individual needs and interests. This can help students feel valued and supported, and can create a sense of belonging in the library.
Tip: Train the library staff might on how to ask students about their favorite books or hobbies, or create a suggestion box where students can request specific resources or programs. We have added a 'Tell us your pronouns' and 'please disturb the librarian' signs.
Fostering a sense of belonging in school libraries through inclusive practices is essential for promoting social-emotional learning and creating an inclusive environment where all students feel safe, supported, and valued. By implementing strategies such as book clubs, collaborative efforts, support for mental health, and MakerCare activities, school librarians can provide students with opportunities to connect with peers, express themselves, and build a sense of belonging in the school community. By identifying and addressing barriers to inclusion, collaborating with teachers and counselors, and implementing successful initiatives, school librarians can create safe spaces for students to learn and grow, and support their social-emotional well-being. Through these efforts, we can foster a culture of inclusivity, promote social-emotional learning, and ensure that all students have the support and resources they need to thrive in school and beyond.
Adams, J. M. (2019). Supporting Social Emotional Learning in the Library. Library Technology Reports, 55(2), 1-42.
García, E. E. (2021). Leading with equity: How librarians can support inclusive social-emotional learning practices. School Library Journal. Retrieved from https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=leading-with-equity-how-librarians-can-support-inclusive-social-emotional-learning-practices
Kaplan, L. S. (2019). The role of the school library in promoting social emotional learning. Knowledge Quest, 47(3), 10-15.
Advocating for Student Voice in Metro Atlanta & Beyond
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