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Best practices for maximizing the impact of social-emotional learning

Sara AustinAugust 10, 2022

Best practices for maximizing the impact of social-emotional learning

Social-emotional learning is all about building important skills for interacting with others and understanding yourself. The classroom environment plays a big role in helping students develop their SEL skills, but it can be challenging for teachers who aren’t quite sure how to turn their classrooms into better environments for this particular type of learning. 

In this post, we’ll show you how you can maximize the benefits of SEL in the classroom to help improve student outcomes.

Provide SEL training for teachers

Training teachers to incorporate SEL into everyday teaching is crucial to maximizing its benefits in the classroom. The ideal time to train teachers would be during their pre-service training, but if that’s not possible, you can offer workshops or in-school training after school begins. 

Teachers should learn about the importance of social-emotional learning, what it means for students’ health and school success, and how they can use it in their classrooms in straightforward ways. For example, teachers could be taught strategies for handling conflict between students or how best to involve parents in the SEL process. These relationship skills will give teachers more confidence as they work with students who struggle to manage their emotions or behaviors.

Promote a healthy learning environment

Students learn best when they feel safe and respected by their teachers and peers. When students feel accepted, they’re more likely to engage openly with their peers and share their feelings freely.

To promote an SEL-friendly learning environment, you should: 

  • Establish an environment in which it’s okay for students to discuss mental health issues in their lives and how those issues impact their wellbeing.
  • Create a culture of trust. A culture of trust requires students and teachers to work together to build a productive relationship that is supportive and free of judgment.
  • Give students a safe space to share their own experiences, both positive and negative, so that they can learn from one another’s successes and mistakes.

Be sensitive to students’ SEL needs

Sensitivity to a student’s social-emotional development is one of the best ways to create an environment that supports your their learning. In addition, this awareness can help you better understand your students’ needs and give them the tools they need for school success. 

Everyone comes into the classroom with different feelings about school or themselves. For example, some kids might have higher confidence levels than others, some may struggle more than others academically, and some may have trouble expressing themselves verbally. By being aware of these differences among your students, you can create an environment where everyone feels included and contributes their abilities equally toward achieving academic and behavioral goals.

Infuse the curriculum with SEL values

Incorporating SEL into your curriculum is a great way to bring it into your school and classroom. Students need more than just academic skills to be successful in life — they also need social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. SEL is about helping students develop healthy relationships with others, develop a sense of self-worth and belonging in the world, feel safe at school, and understand their feelings and those of others.

SEL can be integrated into any subject area or classroom activity — it doesn’t have to take away from what you are already teaching. Here are some examples:

  • Use literature or songs that address feelings as part of language arts lessons. Discuss how characters experience and manage different emotions throughout each story. 
  • Look for examples of how emotions such as anger can manifest physically. These examples will help students identify with these characters’ experiences and connect them to themselves. 
  • Include an SEL component in lesson plans and activities. You can spend a few minutes at the beginning of class or use a more structured activity that teaches students how to handle specific situations.
  • Incorporate an SEL approach into existing lessons or units, especially if you’re covering a topic like conflict resolution or problem solving.

Reinforce SEL with play

Some may think that play has no practical purpose, but it’s an important tool for practicing and learning social-emotional skills. You can use play as a means of helping your students learn and practice SEL.

Play helps children learn about emotions. By playing games with your students, you can introduce them to the emotions that they might feel in different situations (e.g., “If this was a game where two people were fighting over something, what would be the right way to handle it?”). 

Then, play some role-playing games that allow them to practice using those emotions in real-life scenarios (e.g., “What if someone took your toy at recess? What would you do?”). 

You can also have them act out these situations with each other until they get more comfortable with how they’ll react in similar situations outside school hours.

Here are some other ways to get creative with SEL:

  • Use the arts, music, and drama to help students learn social skills. For example, you can use a song as a warm-up exercise for students to practice their listening skills or have them create artwork that depicts what it means to be a good friend.
  • Use games and sports to help students learn how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. They can practice assertiveness techniques such as speaking up for themselves while maintaining respect for others.
  • Encourage students to use recesses or lunch periods to practice making friends and initiating conversations with other kids who might initially seem shy or nervous. This will also help them build confidence when interacting with others outside of class time.
  • Have your students participate in group activities where everyone has an equal chance of winning at something, like charades or Pictionary™, so that everyone feels included. 

Engage families in support of SEL skills

When it comes to social-emotional learning, the involvement of parents is essential. Parents can help you understand what their child needs in order to thrive at school. They can also be powerful advocates for SEL skills outside the classroom. 

Here’s how you can engage parents in supporting SEL skill development:

  • Be transparent about how SEL skills benefit children and communicate with parents about how these values are reinforced in the classroom. 
  • In your communications with parents about SEL, create a safe space for parents to allow them to ask questions. The more comfortable they feel asking questions — and the less afraid they are of saying something wrong — the better their input will be for your classroom.
  • Ensure all communication about SEL between yourself and parents is clear, concise, respectful, and timely. Open dialogue with parents about SEL goals is a great way to achieve buy-in and ensure that SEL values are also supported at home. 

Final note

SEL skills give students the tools they need to maintain healthy relationships and become productive citizens. Oftentimes, with all the demands placed on teachers and students, it can seem impossible to give proper attention to SEL. However, by optimizing your time and resources, you can still offer students the support and guidance they need to develop strong SEL skills. 

Photo credit: Google Education

Your toolkit for a successful year

FREE SEL TEMPLATES to lighten your workload and effectively manage your classroom

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Social Emotional Learning

Your toolkit for a successful year

FREE SEL TEMPLATES to lighten your workload and effectively manage your classroom

Download now