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Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom

How to Approach Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom

Posted on: December 15, 2022

Social and emotional learning, often referred to as SEL, focuses on an ongoing approach to education rather than a time-based program for students to complete or master. In fact, SEL teaching practices can be incorporated into every stage of learning, from childhood to high school, to help students adapt to new environments, identify and manage their emotions, build positive relationships and set goals for the future.

What sets SEL apart from other classroom approaches is that it aims to create a balance between each student’s interpersonal and intrapersonal needs —  both the inner self and outer social aspects of life and emotion.

It has also shown positive impacts on students’ lives both academically and socially as it encourages communication and relationship skills that can help them problem-solve and address stressful situations.


social and emotional learning

What is social and emotional learning?

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the official SEL definition is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

In Carla Tantillo Philibert’s bestseller Everyday SEL in Elementary School , she also discusses the lengthy CASEL definition, but highlights that many SEL teachers each have their own interpretations when asked: what is social-emotional learning?

The common throughline in these discussions was that social-emotional learning is an ongoing process between students, peers and adults. SEL helps learners to identify and respond to stress or uncomfortable situations without judgment or fear of punishment. Some also noted that the main function of adding SEL into the classroom is to provide students with an atmosphere of “safety and empathy,” which is an idea that values diversity and adaptability.

So, with all this in mind, what is SEL?

In practice, SEL has a variety of meanings to different educators and experts, but the fundamental concept focuses on the development of self-awareness, self-management and social skills for children and young people.

To get a deeper insight into SEL, as well as learn more about it’s core competencies, be sure to check out our curated list of resources


SEL benefits

Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

It’s a common misconception that SEL only benefits students in an academic setting. In reality, when teachers incorporate SEL practices into their classrooms, there is a positive impact on both children and adults as the core pillars focus on self-control and empathy — essential qualities that encourage interpersonal skills and improve mental health.

Academically, SEL programs have been shown to improve student performance and grades. In fact, Edutopia’s research showed that students in SEL programs saw an 11 percentile increase in their grades and improved attendance.

Any educator who is new to the practice of adding SEL into their lesson plans will benefit from reframing their view on how they handle poor behavior in class. Instead of approaching a child who has spoken out of turn — perhaps one too many times — with a punishment, SEL training will give educators the tools to check in, identify what the root of the problem is and guide the child to a potential solution.

Rather than sending a disruptive child to the principal, the teacher may discover that the student didn’t have breakfast, which is why they can’t focus on the lesson plan. The child can also then learn self-awareness as they’re guided through the ulterior reasons for their problem behavior that they themselves may not have put together either.

Similarly, SEL extends beyond the classroom by helping students develop “soft skills” with these positive behavioral interventions that can be applied throughout their lives. The development of soft skills, which nurture emotional intelligence, is one of the most significant benefits to SEL. These skills include the ability to understand others, work in a team and problem-solve when needed. With these tools in hand, students can learn how to adjust to new environments inside and outside of the classroom, which will help encourage future success.


SEL in the classroom

Ideas to incorporate SEL into the classroom

The first step to adding schoolwide SEL is to start with the adults in the situation — the teachers. The fact is that students won’t be able to productively learn SEL concepts without a teacher that can model the proper understanding, behavior and responsible decision-making for them.

A helpful resource for educators to explore is our free chapter of the bestseller Everyday SEL in Elementary School by Carla Tantillo Philibert. This chapter specifically focuses on how to bring SEL into the classroom as an elementary school educator.

Since you can’t teach what you don’t know, it’s also important for teachers to familiarize themselves with key SEL terminology. Some important concepts to keep in mind are:

● Self-awareness: enables students to address their own needs, including mental, emotional and physical
● Self-regulation: empowers learners to take control of their choices instead of impulsivity
● Social awareness: teaches students to identify how their actions are impacting others and themselves
● Self-efficacy and social harmony: practiced when students are at balance with their own needs and the needs of others

In terms of what students can incorporate into their daily lives, Everyday SEL in Elementary School also expands on four practices that can help learners work on their SEL skills inside and outside of an academic setting. These practices include:

1. Vocalization
2. Movement
3. Stillness
4. Human Connection

Each practice is uniquely different to provide learners, whether a child or adult, with the tools to address their potential issues or uncertainties based on their needs. Every student enters the classroom with their own experiences, traumas, mobility issues and/or communication difficulties and these practices can help them sort through the right medium to decompress or self-assess.


SEL resources

SEL support and resources

SEL is a critical aid for educators to help guide and support students to become more emotionally aware and intelligent. It not only improves student academic performance but also empowers SEL learners to manage their emotions and set positive goals beyond the classroom.

For educators and parents who are looking for SEL-based programs, CASEL is spearheading a collaborative districts initiative, which aims to build education processes around SEL concepts. They currently have 20 partner districts across the U.S. and also provide tools and resources for those who want to learn or share SEL methodology.

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to learn more about SEL or are considering implementing its practices into the classroom, explore our collection of social and emotional learning books . From early childhood to high school, we provide resources for SEL at all levels..