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How to become a social-emotional learning specialist (SEL)

Ryan CrawleyDecember 7, 2021

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Want to help your students succeed in a world that’s often spinning out of control? Earning good grades won’t be enough. You have to teach them solid behavioral skills, like social-emotional learning (SEL) to help them manage their attitude and approach to life. 

Here are just a few examples: 

  • Setting short-term and long-term goals
  • Displaying empathy toward others 
  • Examining issues from all viewpoints 
  • Self-management 
  • Social awareness
  • Building positive relationships
  • Communication
  • Solid decision-making 
  • Taking responsibility for their actions 

More important than classroom learning 

Strong SEL skills can be even more important than the subjects your students are learning. Having the right attitude and exhibiting the right behavior will help a person go far in life in both their chosen career and their relationships with others. As you’ve probably heard, it’s not what you know, but who you know and how you present yourself that’s important in the long run. 

How to present SEL in the classroom

Administrators and educators are still trying to determine the best way to approach SEL with their students so they become productive members of the community. It’soften a trial-and-error approach if the school district doesn’t have an SEL specialist leading the way. 

How to become an SEL specialist

Why wait for someone in your school district to step forward and present an social emotional learning program? You can become an SEL specialist and help to improve the overall school climate.  You’ll also be seen as a leader for the entire community. 

Master’s Degree in SEL

There are plenty of colleges and universities that offer SEL specialist certificates or degrees, but most of them include the same type of course load. Many of the schools offer their curriculum online as well, so distance should not be an issue when determining which college presents the most optimal SEL program for a Master’s degree. 

For instance, Erikson Institute has an online Master’s degree program in social-emotional development and well-being that consists of 30 credit hours. The program teaches social and emotional skills so  the educator can deliver their own SEL programming to students. It targets pre-K through third-grade students. 

How to implement an SEL curriculum

Cambridge College in Boston also offers online courses. They have a Master of Education in Skills-Based Mental Health/Social-Emotional Learning that consists of 36 credit hours. Their program is designed for  students in both elementary and secondary education. This course will teach you how to: 

  • Implement curriculum in the Health/SEL classroom
  • Present Health-SEL skills for risk reduction and positive behavior change
  •  Improve positive school Health/SEL through district coordination

Doane University, based in Omaha, also offers online courses for a Graduate degree in becoming a Social-Emotional Learning specialist.  The university says the  graduate will become a “knowledgeable practitioner in the neuroscience and process, through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show compassion and empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.”

SEL certificates

There are many reasons why people in education might choose to pursue an SEL certificate rather than complete a whole Master’s program. For one, it is usually much quicker and much less expensive. Plus, if the person already has a Master’s degree in Education, getting another Master’s degree might seem redundant.  SEL certificate courses are usually more focused and can be completed in a month or less. With a plethora of various SEL certificates available, it is a good idea to know which ones are the best fit for your students, parents, fellow educators, and school district. 

Mindful Practices was founded in 2006 and is an online company composed  of SEL specialists and Class Catalyst Consultants. The two groups assist schools in developing custom SEL implementation through coaching, professional development, training, certifications, and workshops. They offer an online SEL certification course for individuals or even whole groups that can be completed in ten days (20 hours of class time). Those who complete the course will earn an SEL Certificate of Training from Mindful Practices. 

Improve students’ lives 

Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences offers a Social-Emotional Learning and Character Development online certificate program for educators and administrators. The course is designed to help educators implement SEL and character-based programs to improve students’ social and emotional lives. 

Northcentral University is another online school that offers a Post-Master’s certificate in  social-emotional learning in Education. It consists of 18 credit hours (six courses) that are to be completed in 13 months. The certification is designed for teachers, school counselors, psychologists, and administrators and deals with the five core competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). 

Staff professional development

Rather than relying on one SEL-certified person to lead the way, why not offer the whole staff a professional development day to learn how to implement a strong SEL program for your  district? The SEL specialist could help them make huge gains in their SEL curriculum in just a few hours. Plus, it would ensure that everyone in the district would be adhering to the same lesson plans, curriculums, and programs. Think of the money you’d save on individual training! Many of these professional development workshops provide SEL certification once the seminar is completed. 

Which SEL specialist program is right for you?

As you’ve seen, there are many options available for becoming an SEL specialist. So, how do you decide which program is best for your needs? Try asking yourself these questions: 

  • How much do you want to spend?
  • How long will it take?
  • Can you make the time commitment?
  • Would you rather travel to your classes or take them in your own home?

Once  you complete the certification or Master’s degree, you have to be ready to present SEL options to your school district and others. Are you willing to take a leadership role and show how SEL skills can improve your students’ lives for the better? Do you want to teach others how to include these skills in lesson plans and curriculum? This could be the perfect opportunity for you! 

Photo credit: Google Education

How PBIS helped transform a school

How did Tabor City Middle School decrease classroom incidences by 91%?

Learn how
Case Study Tabor City

Social Emotional Learning

How PBIS helped transform a school

How did Tabor City Middle School decrease classroom incidences by 91%?

Learn how
Case Study Tabor City