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5 Ways to Implement Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom and Beyond

The University of Texas at Arlington's online Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program can help educators learn how to change their school communities positively. Among the most impactful areas of potential change is integrating social-emotional learning (SEL) into school culture, curricula, instruction and all other aspects of the student experience.

What Is SEL?

SEL can be thought of as the process or framework through which people develop the social and emotional skills, knowledge and competencies needed to succeed in modern life. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) breaks the SEL framework down into the development of five interrelated core competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Relationship skills
  • Social awareness

What Are the Benefits of SEL?

According to CASEL, research has shown that SEL can lead to student improvements in areas like:

  • Social and emotional skills
  • Attitudes about the self and others
  • Relationships
  • Academic performance
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Long-term economic mobility

SEL also correlates with lower levels of student anxiety, behavior problems and substance abuse, as well as decreased need for public services or legal issues throughout life. Challenges surrounding areas like social interaction in the digital environment, mental health issues in today's youth and persistent societal inequities further underscore the need for SEL skill development.

How Can SEL Be Implemented Effectively?

CASEL emphasizes the importance of thinking holistically about SEL implementation. This means educators should endeavor to integrate SEL across a student's developmental experiences, in the classroom, in the school culture, at home and in the broader community.

Here are five of the many ways educators can support SEL development by implementing SEL throughout educational practices:

  1. Mindfulness, Breathing and Self-Reflection

By giving students structured time to practice mindfulness and breathing techniques, educators can help students learn how to relax, cope with stress and reduce anxiety. This helps foster self-awareness and emotional resiliency.

Educators can further help students develop self-awareness, self-management and social awareness skills through encouraging active self-reflection surrounding emotions, behaviors and decisions. Ask them: How does this situation make you feel? How do the decisions you make impact your experience and the experience of others? This self-inquiry process builds emotional intelligence and critical thought, supporting responsible decision-making and continuous SEL skill development. 

  1. Role Modeling

As with any teaching practice, educators can help students understand and develop SEL skills through modeling those skills every day. Teachers should regularly check in with students, whether informally or through formal class meetings and group reflection opportunities.

Modeling empathetic and healthy emotional behaviors should extend beyond the classroom, however. From school leaders to guidance counselors to classroom teachers, all educators should model and practice SEL skills. This fosters a school culture of effective social-emotional learning.

  1. Active Listening and Empathetic Conflict-Resolution

Teachers can use activities and focused lessons to help students understand, practice and see the benefits of active listening. These skills apply experientially to situations of conflict that arise. Teachers should have students practice active listening to begin the conflict resolution process, followed by self-reflection and guided, constructive conversation.

This builds a student's empathetic understanding of how their behaviors and decisions impact others, further developing social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making and relationship skills. As students internalize these aspects of SEL, they can begin to practice prosocial behaviors, affecting long-term improvements in social-emotional development.

  1. Multicultural Content

Incorporating multicultural content representative of the breadth of today's diverse student body is essential to culturally responsive education. Such content can also help students develop empathy in understanding the experiences of people from different backgrounds.

Teachers can have students reflect on how they think a character felt in a certain situation. How did the behavior of others impact that character's feelings? What social and cultural factors might underlie the behaviors, feelings and experiences of characters? Exploring these ideas helps students build social and cultural awareness, empathy and critical thought surrounding diversity, biases and societal inequities.

  1. Community Service Opportunities

Partnering with families and community organizations to provide students with service-learning opportunities can help students develop, integrate and apply SEL skills in life beyond the classroom. This can help students see how such skills are transferable to experiences throughout life while building social awareness, empathy and social responsibility on a broad scale.

Educators have many opportunities to help students develop SEL skills in and out of the classroom. Through holistic, integrative SEL implementation, educators can have exponential, long-term, positive impacts on students' lives as well as the well-being of families, communities and society.

Learn more about The University of Texas at Arlington's Online Master of Education in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies program.


SEL: What Are the Core Competence Areas and Where Are they Promoted?
Benefits of SEL

EdSurge: Why Social-Emotional Learning Is Suddenly in the Spotlight

Edutopia: Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential for Students

Pathway 2 Success: 25 Ways to Integrate Social Emotional Learning

Positive Action: What is SEL? Social-Emotional Learning Defined & Explained

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