Four Ways to Incorporate Social Emotional Learning into the Classroom

Cute little children painting at table indoors. Learning by playingAdolescent years are more than a time for educational development. They are a time for young people to learn the critical personal and interpersonal skills needed to succeed in the workplace and life. Schools across the country are incorporating social emotional learning (SEL) techniques into their instruction to help students understand the complexities of emotions and develop the skills needed to be socially successful and personally accountable. Such skills can also help youth learn to proactively and respectfully resolve conflicts—a skill that is extremely critical at a time when addressing bullying and other youth risk factors are of high importance for parents and educators. Follow the techniques below to incorporate critical SEL learning opportunities into your curriculum and help arm your students with comprehensive foundational skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Incorporate SEL into All Classroom Activities

It’s best not to think of SEL as a specific lecture or topic that needs to be added to your weekly curriculum. Instead, SEL is a series of purposeful practices that should be incorporated into everyday classroom activities and norms. Such strategies should help reinforce such concepts as accountability, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship-building.

Encourage Social Interactions

You likely already plan time for students to work in assigned pairs and groups on classroom assignments. Giving students structured time to socialize with peers with whom they may rarely speak can help students build social awareness and develop vital communication skills in a non-threatening environment.

Give Students a Channel to Share Candid Feelings

How your students act outwardly may not always reflect how they are feeling inside. Students may also not feel comfortable seeking you as their teacher out to share issues they are having at home or with other students, even if you regularly reinforce your availability and willingness to be a source of support. Students may feel more comfortable providing candid feedback in the form of notes or messages—even shared anonymously. Consider asking students to fill out and submit a weekly survey asking them to share their current emotional state. Picture, for example, a checkbox where students can select if they are happy, sad, frustrated, angry, or bored. Such easily implemented assessments can be profoundly insightful and help you understand your students’ feelings.

Facilitate Peer Interviews

Adolescent years are a critical time for young people to begin to understand the value of two-way dialogue and communications as a tool for helping better understand the people around them. Students need to learn that every one of their peers is unique and multidimensional. Peer interviews can help students see beyond social cliques or stereotypes (such as “jocks,” “nerds,” and “artists,”) and realize that they may have more in common than they realize. Such realizations help to eliminate social barriers and foster social equity among peers.

For example, you might facilitate an exercise where students who are likely less familiar with one another are encouraged to interview each other. Ask them to produce a visual deliverable that expresses fun facts about the student’s interests, accomplishments, hobbies, and three things that make the student unique or special. The effort is likely to produce genuine mutual appreciation.

SEL is a journey, not a destination.

Keep in mind that SEL is about comprehending appropriateness, fostering self-reliance, and eliminating barriers to social judgments. These skills require constant reinforcement and experiential learning. By exposing students to activities that provide opportunities to develop personal and interpersonal skills, and leading your classroom in a way that reinforces positivity and acceptance, you will give your students the tools they need to develop critical social and emotional skill development that will benefit them far into adulthood.


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