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Social Emotional Health in the Classroom

Educator Resources / April 22, 2022
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What is SEL?

This month we are highlighting Social & Emotional Learning. Research is pointing towards the importance of addressing the emotional development of students through curriculum and structures that promote emotional health. Check out the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) for more context on what the Research says about SEL.  


Social and Emotional Learning is impactful on it’s own, and the importance of these competencies has risen since the COVID-19 pandemic. The AAP, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association have, “declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, citing the serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of existing challenges.” The present necessity to address the emotional needs of students is of the utmost importance. 


The Educator Academy is continuing to deepen our own understanding of SEL and investigate ways to support Residents’ emotional health as they prepare to enter the classroom. While there are many changes that are the most impactful at the system level, there are also tactical things that we and other teachers can implement immediately for the benefit of students. In this blog we are sharing resources and tips for educators to include in their classroom, and insights for future educators to consider as they prepare to enter the classroom.


CASEL’s Framework for SEL

Social Emotional Learning refers to the intentional inclusion of content and practices related to emotional wellbeing of students. CASEL, an organizational leader in this area, has a framework that breaks down social & emotional well-being into 5 competencies: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Responsible Decision-Making
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness


What competencies do you see as a strength in yourself and in your students? What competencies might need further insight? Below we are diving into each of these competencies and how they might be addressed in the classroom. 


SEL Competency:


Knowledge of self is a foundational skill for being an effective teacher, and it’s also a key skill for kids to learn and practice as they develop their own social emotional health. 

Self-awareness as defined by CASEL is “The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts”. This is really important because research has shown that just the act of naming emotions reduces the intensity of the feeling and disrupts the stress response. The impact of that on students and teachers is that they are able to more quickly pivot into other parts of their brain (like the learning brain). 


Is this an area where your students might need further support? Consider adding in activities that address this competency. This could look like: 

  1. Teaching what emotions are – The exact content will vary depending on the age and context of your students. Teaching your students about emotions might include presenting a visual tool like the mood meter to explain the relationship between different emotions, or explaining the science behind emotions impact on the body in a science unit, or including emotive words in a vocab or spelling quiz. 
  2. Identifying their emotions – Having students practice identifying their own emotions as a start-of-class-check-in. You could use emojis, a mood meter, or other visual aid to help them connect and identify their emotions
  3. Naming their Emotions – Help students identify their emotions by talking back what they share with you “it sounds like you are really frustrated by that” 
  4. Integrating Self-Reflection into Class– where appropriate, include self-reflection writing prompts and discussion questions to encourage students to connect with and be aware of their internal state.
  5. Giving tools for dealing with their emotions – Create a space for students in your classroom to cool-down and reflect when needed. This could look like a reading nook, or a comfy chair for students to reset when they feel like they need it. Set classroom norms around students being able to access these tools when they sense they need a reset vs. the teacher so that the calm space doesn’t obtain a punitive connotation.  



SEL Competency:


The next Social & Emotional Learning competency from CASEL that we are highlighting is self-management. Self-management is applying ownership around self-awareness. It’s not enough to merely recognize your internal state, children need to be taught how to manage their emotional state. This also includes motivation, and planning skills.

This competency can be an especially beneficial skill during independent learning! By teaching self management skills and giving clear directions you can support students in their independent work time to stay focused on their learning.


Wondering how you can incorporate and encourage self-management skills In the classroom setting? This might look like: 

  • Group Discussions – Lead a group discussion about age appropriate ways to express emotions (it’s okay to feel angry, it’s not okay to hit) 
  • Instruction around tools – Teach self-regulation tools like deep breathing for students to learn how to manage their big feelings 
  • Student Directed Insight – Self management relates not only to managing high intensity emotions, but also managing yourself in a lower energy state or through a lack of motivation. Have students brainstorm ways to motivate themselves or take care of themselves when they are feeling low in energy. 



SEL Competency:

Responsible Decision Making 

Another aspect of Social Emotional Learning is teaching students about responsible decision making skills. This includes cultivating curiosity, analyzing information before making decisions or a judgment, and evaluating the consequences of decisions before making a decision. 

In the classroom 

Here are a couple of suggestions for how to incorporate Responsible Decision Making into your classroom! 


  • Problem Solving –  Have students work in groups to come up with solutions to problems (these could be hypothetical situations OR real issues in your classroom that might be appropriate for students to discuss ex. How should we handle bathroom passes? 
  • Create Common Understanding & Definitions – Define what “responsible” means – you could do this through explicit instruction or have the class create a common definition around “responsible” for the classroom. 
  • Discuss the Impact and Outcomes of Decisions – When reading or studying someone in history, discuss alternative outcomes that might have arisen from making different decisions. What might have been the outcome if ___ had done A instead of B?” 
  • Further example – need more help finding ways to integrate responsible decision making into your classroom? Check out this website where you can filter by age for worksheets for your students! 



SEL Competency:

Relationship Skills 

Relationship Skills are the next piece of SEL that we are diving into! Students need explicit instruction on how to navigate relationships in a healthy and responsive manner. This includes communication skills, developing cultural competence, navigating conflict and more. 


Here are a few ideas for incorporating relationship skill building in your classroom: 

  • Incorporate Collaboration – Use collaborative practices (like project based learning) for students to practice interacting and working with others
  • Highlight Positive Interactions – Give praise for students solving conflict appropriately 
  • Discuss Dynamics – Discuss the relationship skills (or lack thereof) displayed by characters in books you are reading. Where did this character flex their relationship skills in a meaningful way? Where could they have made a different choice in engaging with others? 



SEL Competency:

Social Awareness

Next we are highlighting the importance of Social Awareness. Social Awareness encompasses the learned skills of considering the perspective of others, empathizing with others, and navigating different dynamics with individuals including those across lines of difference. 


The classroom setting has lots of opportunities to encourage and develop social awareness in your students. Practically, this could look like: 

  • Emphasize Multiple Perspectives – Having students ponder the opposing viewpoint on various topics (If they think A, why might someone think B?) You can do this for trivial or more serious topics depending on the culture and context of your class. This could be topics like: 
    • Cake vs. Ice cream – Which one are you drawn to? (this relates to self-awareness) Why might someone else like the other flavor better? 
    • School Dress code policy – What are your thoughts towards your school’s policy? (this relates to self-awareness) Why might other students, faculty, staff, or parents come to a different conclusion? 
  • Practice Identifying Emotions in others – Show pictures or videos clips of individuals displaying various emotions and have students identify what the person might be feeling. Highlight the specific body language or facial cues that students might use to differentiate different emotions in another person. 
  • Practice Taking on Others Perspective – Take the perspective of different characters in literature you are reading – How might that person be feeling or experiencing the situation? 
    • Even if you teach in a content that isn’t heavy on reading, you can highlight people and their emotions. 
      • For ex. Think about the experience of Rosalind Franklin; how might she have felt when her contributions towards the structure of DNA were not recognized? 



Social Emotional Strategies for Teacher Well-Being

It’s not only important to address the emotional learning needs of students, but also care for your own emotional health! If you don’t already have a plan in place, try out these tools to address your emotional emotional health. 


  • Reflect through Journaling: Reflect on your own social emotional competencies – what areas do you easily flex your skills? In what circumstances do you find it more difficult to display social and emotional competencies? How might you develop awareness or skills in those areas?
  • Build your own Awareness– Even 5 minutes can make a big difference in grounding yourself before starting the school day. If you find yourself disconnected from your own emotional state, build in 3-5 minute moments to check in with yourself. Start by noticing your feelings and bring curiosity towards what you might need for the day. 
  • Use Resources – Books like Onward by Elena Aguilar are meant specifically for teachers and their own emotional health. 
  • Create routines for yourself – In education, we often talk about the importance of routines for students, but we don’t always talk about the importance of routines and rhythms for educators! When are you most likely to become overwhelmed or unmotivated? Think about creating small habits during those times to reconnect with yourself. This could look like refilling your water bottle, taking deep breaths, or coming back to a mantra. 



The Educator Academy & SEL 

The Educator Academy acknowledges the needs of the whole child. Teachers are contracted to facilitate academic instruction, yet there is much more than goes into ensuring students are safe, acknowledged, and supported in their academic learning. In pursuit of education that cares for the whole child, The Educator Academy has developed offerings for our teachers. We have committed to utilizing Elena Aguilar’s book Onward as an option for coaching and book studies, offering Mental Health First Aid training for coaches, and creating space for our Mentors in PLC for personal building of these skills. We are also excited to work strategically in our SEHL team to grow more in this area! Interested in learning more The Educator Academy and our commitment to supporting and cultivating teachers that are highly effective in the classroom? Connect with our team to learn more!