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  • Gretchen Rinnert

CSD in NE Nigeria

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

Within the scope of the SENSE project, psychosocial support (PSS) for teachers and children impacted by the Islamic States of West Africa insurgency is intended to help provide a foundation upon which classroom instruction and learning outcomes can be improved, based on research showing that effective learning in schools is largely enabled by the well-being of learners, teachers, and the wider community. One key component of PSS is social emotional learning (SEL) in classrooms.


The Columbia team spent the early months of the project reviewing PSS and SEL materials and approaches used in Northeast Nigeria and other relevant contexts in preparation for the first participatory design workshop in September 2019 held with sixty key education stakeholders from Adamawa and Gombe states. Reviewed models included International Rescue Committee’s Healing Classrooms, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) model[1], Martin Steligman’s PERMA model[2], and Harvard School of Education’s SEL Taxonomy[3]. The team also reviewed key concepts including Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset[4], Self-Compassion, and Mindfulness.


The objectives for the first workshop were to guide participants to:

  • Understand concepts of Social Emotional Learning and Psychosocial Support

  • Reflect on opportunities and challenges for integrating PSS/SEL concepts and practices into schools, including common scenarios within schools/communities

  • Become familiar with best practices for integrating PSS and SEL in schools

  • Develop an appropriate SEL framework for project schools.

  • Consider examples of how SEL can be embedded into Nigerian curriculum through participatory lesson demonstrations.

  • The purpose in presenting various SEL frameworks was to equip participants with a foundation of SEL knowledge in order to then facilitate a participatory design process whereby the participants would develop their own “homegrown SEL framework”, as one participant put it.

Five components of well-being were proposed based on literature review – social, emotional, spiritual, material and cognitive. Participants were asked to give verbal consent to share their inputs through the activity, and then worked in small groups to discuss how common school scenarios impact these elements of pupil and teacher well-being, and how the school community can better support pupil and teacher well-being. This exercise was designed to elicit shared understanding of what well-being means in common school contexts of Adamawa and Gombe to serve as the foundation for building a localized framework for PSS and SEL in schools.


With the shared understanding elicited through the discussion of how common school scenarios can impact on pupil and teacher well-being, stakeholders were presented with common SEL frameworks, with each model defined using their key concepts and/or competency areas and associated skills. Participants then took part in a series of lesson demonstrations, including mindfulness activities, cognitive development games, storytelling discussion and role-playing, to explore how various SEL competencies and skills can be cultivated through simple classroom activities.


Cognitive Development Games

The next session of the workshop was focused on facilitating stakeholders through a decision-making process to design the project’s SEL framework. The process utilized the Institute for Cultural Affairs Technology of Participation method, which Bryson and Anderson (2000)[5]note for its streamlined approach to “eliciting and clustering ideas according to related themes” (p. 153). The first step was to form small groups, with each group receiving a collection of paper strips with the SEL Competency Area names from the various reviewed models, along with their definitions, color-coded based on the SEL model they came from. Groups were asked to match the Competency Area strips to their Definitions to first ensure that participants felt comfortable with the various SEL terms.


Small Group Discussions

Next, groups were to cluster the terms from the different frameworks that they thought fit together (for example, one model might include a competency area on “positive relationships” while another includes “relationship skills”, which can be clustered together). Once these clusters were done, the groups were asked to name them into Competency Areas, write each name on a post-it note, then post their notes on the wall for all to see.


Once all groups had completed the clustering and naming activity and placed their notes on the wall, another round of sorting commenced with lively involvement from the large group, creating clusters that took into account the inputs from each small group.Once this round of sorting was done, the large group debated how to name their clusters into what would become the Competency Areas for the project’s SEL framework.

The group agreed on six Competency Areas. The next day, after an evening of reflection, the group reviewed the Competency Areas and associated skills based on their sorting from the day before, and discussed whether certain Competency Areas were missing key skills, if they wanted to adjust any terms, or remove anything. Interwoven into the discussion was how the skills and concepts proposed for inclusion could be translated into simple, actionable activities for teachers, based on the lesson demonstrations that the stakeholders had participated in.


Clustering & Naming Activity

Based on the decisions taken during the September 2019 workshop, the team developed a Teacher Guide for integrating the SEL framework into classroom practice through a set of simple activities, including some explicit SEL activities, such as mindfulness and cognitive development games, as well as integrated SEL activities designed to address both SEL and literacy or numeracy learning objectives simultaneously. The SEL Activities Guide will be rolled out in 2020.


  1. [1]https://casel.org/ [2]https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/ [3] EASEL Lab Taxonomy Project [4]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ [5]https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0033-3352.00073?casa_token=t463gZ_S4-gAAAAA%3ALfS7HOVXMCSHoYnYvFQ9z30QX_lswP-qsfc7S5u4eXgfXUGi2PfJcjA5_n8bbZTrSyuhX8i7GIX42g


Blog Post by Tara Stafford Ocansey. Tara is a program manager and education specialist with over ten years of experience managing education research and implementation teams from diverse education settings across numerous countries.

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The SENSE Activity

This project in Northeast Nigeria is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Strengthening Education in Northeast Nigerian States (SENSE) Activity.

This project required considerable inputs from a wide range of people and institutions. We are grateful to USAID for the support that makes this vital project possible. USAID’s input and emphasis towards inclusive, equitable and quality education for all children in Nigeria, particularly the most vulnerable, is greatly appreciated.

Audu Liman

Chief of Party, American University of Nigeria

Radhika Iyengar, PhD

Principal Investigator, Columbia University


Marianne Martens, PhD

Principal Investigator, Kent State University

© 2020 SENSE Activity