Enhancing Social Emotional Learning in Columbus classrooms

Updated: May 16

In many older classrooms, one might find sterile spaces that are far removed from being welcoming or conducive learning environments. To acknowledge these concerns, educators are looking at integrating Social & Emotional Learning methods and spaces into schools to proactively respond to the emotional needs of students, reduce anxiety in the classroom, and address behavioral issues.


Classroom spaces for this kind of learning must take several points into consideration. Social & Emotional Learning, or SEL classrooms, aim to enhance learning opportunities and encourage their students to:

· Understand and manage emotions

· Feel and show empathy

· Establish and maintain relationships

· Make responsible decisions

· Cool down and resolve conflicts


NDC was tapped to design SEL classrooms to fit within traditional classrooms of 3 existing schools, Windsor STEM, Hamilton STEM, and West High School. SEL room designs provide solutions to environmental elements that focus on the moods and energy levels of the spaces and allow for flexibility in their operation. NDC visited three area schools to observe the state of classrooms and communal areas and prepared concepts for each location to create SEL spaces.


Examples of classroom features that encourage SEL


Lighting is key, as a mixture of natural, dim, focused, and bright lights allow spaces to adjust to various activities and moods, while plants and air quality control work hand in hand to improve the natural space and support immune function. Acoustic considerations are important, as the right paneling allows students and teachers to hear each other at appropriate levels without raising their voices.


Modular furniture creates flexibility in function, as it allows students and teachers to adapt their spaces as required by different activities. Walls also play an important role in classrooms as they provide areas to show off creativity and lead with examples. Including more writable surfaces, like glass, whiteboards, and chalkboards, facilitates collaborative and large-scale SEL activities, while varied tactile fabrics create a rich environment and allow sensory exploration. Ultimately, these considerations allow for the creation of open spaces and cozy nooks. Having both in the classroom creates zones for different activities and supports varied moods and energy levels of students.


At Windsor STEM Academy, NDC took a classroom and divided it into distinct zones. Varying furnishings and surfaces could allow for focused activities at different energy levels, such as crafts, group work, and quiet space. New shades and panels add warmth to the room, and lightweight, soft furniture gives students a new experience every time they enter the classroom.


SEL classroom improvements at Windsor STEM Academy


At Hamilton STEM Academy, an older enclosed classroom and a teachers’ lounge were the focus of intervention. Division of the rooms and utilization of lightweight, soft furnishings created a defined and easily reconfigurable space. The teachers’ lounge concept revamped the space with a new kitchenette, more storage solutions, and more seating options, providing a respite space for educators and consideration for their need to recharge. A modular conference table and standing countertop create distinct spaces that can be mobile while different forms of proposed shelving provide easy access to tools and books while hiding away clutter.


Improvements to teacher's lounge at Hamilton STEM Academy


Finally, at West High School, NDC explored changes in a special purpose room, teachers’ lounge, and cafeteria to apply SEL principles. In the first room, lighting management and large, soft seating enhance the space’s comfort. Different seating options, more plants, and an area rug create an indoor garden with space for collaboration. The teachers’ lounge offers a similar 'garden' space with a variety of seating options and improved storage. At the cafeteria, felt ceiling clouds work with the existing bright lights to alleviate the industrial feel of the space and add sound dampening to improve the overall acoustics. Blinds, paint, and acoustic touches liven up the space along with vinyl wall installations of quotes and school logos. Apart from traditional school cafeteria seating, standing tables are provided to again create flexibility in seating.


Renderings demonstrate SEL-guided improvements to cafeteria space at West High School


In all, NDC’s concepts for SEL rooms enhance existing schoolroom conditions while advancing the idea of Social & Emotional Learning. The goal of these spaces is to build a healthy community, reduce anxieties, and generate mindfulness among all school members. NDC is thrilled that Columbus Public Schools will create better learning and emotional outcomes for students with these SEL rooms, and look forward to seeing the implementation.