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New NCMA Course Co-Developed with the Friday Institute Helps Teachers Use Art-Based SEL Strategies in the Classroom

A screenshot from the NCMA Art and SEL Online Course. A woman holds up two pieces of paper with drawings on them.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) has been shown to lay the foundation for academic achievement and lifelong health, and the rise and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of SEL even more. SEL became a priority for schools, and students’ well-being was at the forefront of teachers’ minds, especially when learning was completely remote last year. The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) responded to this need and reached out to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation to help them co-develop a course on art-based strategies to support teachers on “developing inclusive classroom environments based on the core competencies of SEL.” The self-paced online course for educators, Art and SEL, runs from June 22 through Aug. 17.

“With everything students (and adults) have been through over the past year and a half, addressing social and emotional needs and creating inclusive classroom cultures that help children feel whole and valued has never been more important,” said Brittany Miller, research associate at the Friday Institute. “Students need to be able to care for themselves, listen genuinely to others and be open to perspectives, experiences and viewpoints that differ from their own. Art provides a perfect platform for students to actively engage in these skills and can bring social and emotional learning from beyond a specific set SEL curriculum or activities into the daily learning of students.”

According to the NCMA team, SEL has always been part of the arts, but this course shows educators how to be more explicit about the language used with students. 

“The work that goes with social emotional learning, for some people, can be uncomfortable,” said Jill Taylor, manager of school and teacher programs at the NCMA. “It’s a very personal thing to share, and so if you have a work of art that kind of is a filter before some of these conversations or ideas, it can make it easier for students to open up about either the ways they feel or experience the world.”

The NCMA worked closely and collaboratively with the Friday Institute to tie foundational SEL concepts aligned to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework to the arts. In addition to setting the goals and themes of the course, the NCMA team chose works of art that they had previously used with teachers or aligned with the course’s themes of mindfulness, identity, perspective sharing, community building and agency. The Friday Institute team provided foundational components for each theme, such as identifying what mindfulness and identity are.

A mirrored drawing of a tree and a woman
Minnie Evans, The Tree of Life, 1962, drawing, 11 7/8 x 8 7/8 in.
(30.2 x 22.5 cm), Gift of Mr. and Mrs. D. H. McCollough and the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)

“We knew that by partnering with them [the Friday Institute], we would have experienced colleagues to be able to bounce ideas off and make sure that we’re on the right track,” said Kristin Smith, NCMA Connects project manager. “But I think, also, they’re just so well respected already that aligning with them only bolsters what our message is and what we’re trying to do.”

During the course, educators will learn routines and strategies to incorporate the SEL themes into their curriculum design and daily classroom practices.

“The big goal of this course is, in many respects, to help teachers build skills in their students that will last a lifetime, and seeing how these skills manifest specifically through art is a natural and approachable way to do it,” said Alex Dreier, associate director of online learning at the Friday Institute. “It’s just a good marriage of content and goals that isn’t forced.” 

Each theme is designed to model for teachers how to grow and develop a welcoming, inclusive classroom. For example, one of the activities, “A Mindful Moment with Monet,” is part of the mindfulness section and gives students the opportunity to name five things they see, four things they hear, three things they can taste and so on.

 “The whole point of that is by the time you get to one, whatever was maybe causing the stress of you not being able to focus on one thing or another, you’re more mindful,” said Patricia Hilliard, Ph.D., research scholar at the Friday Institute.You’re more aware of what’s happening around you.”

The NCMA hopes to inspire teachers to think about the arts as a way to better understand ourselves and each other, as well as learn a different way to engage students while building on current curriculum.

“I think we want a bit of a transformative experience within the course like, ‘I never thought about it that way. That’s really exciting,’” said Smith. “So I think that in the process of people activating the course and working through the course, I think we’ll learn where are the most beneficial connections that we’re providing and then I think that we would like to take that into future programs or future courses.”

The Friday Institute team sees this course as something that will help develop skills for a lifetime in which students feel appreciated for who they are.

“In my opinion, it is needed to help students to become healthy, well-functioning adults,” said Hilliard. “The strategies that they learn in the course should translate into mechanisms that they use throughout life to be more mindful, respect others’ perspectives, learn to advocate for themselves, value their multiple identities and learn from one another.”

Regarding the partnership, the Friday Institute hopes that they can continue to find collaborative ways to work together.

“Our experience in collaborating with NCMA on this project was deeply fulfilling, and we hope that it’s just the start of a long-term partnership that can benefit educators and students from across our state,” said Dreier.

To learn more about the course and register, visit the Art and SEL course page here.