sel for adults
Jan 04 2022

A Beginner’s Guide to Social-Emotional Learning for Adults

Positive Action Staff
A famous poem by Dorothy Law Nolte makes it plain to see why it’s critical to do and say what’s right so children can follow the lead.

“If children live with acceptance, They learn to love. If children live with security, They learn to have faith in themselves and others. If children live with friendliness, They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.” - Excerpt from Children Learn What They Live Poem by Dorothy Law Nolte

While it's important to teach young children the ABCs, there is more to education than academics. It’s the responsibility of adults and schools to work together to produce well-rounded young people.

One of the best ways to instill the right values in children is for the adults around them to exhibit sound social and emotional skills.

Today, we'll unpack what social-emotional learning (SEL) for adults is all about in order to give you the tools needed to teach and raise the next generation.

What Is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) For Adults?

Adult social and emotional learning refers to the processes and mechanisms by which adults learn how to manage the social and emotional aspects of their lives including:

  • Understanding, coping with and managing emotions
  • Defining values and their sense of purpose
  • Gaining confidence that doesn't border on arrogance
  • Having clear thought patterns
  • Developing a well-grounded understanding of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Building and reinforcing self-control
  • Managing life's challenges
  • Nurturing healthy relationships
  • Showing empathy and handling social relations well

If parents, teachers and the community at large exhibit these characteristics, young people can model their own emotional growth after what they see.

The table below shows the main SEL competencies and how they manifest themselves in people with healthy social and emotional development levels.

Competency: Self-Management

How It Presents?

  • The ability to manage oneself
  • Handling stress well
  • Setting boundaries
  • Following through with goals
  • Self-motivation
  • Controlling one’s impulses
  • Self-organization
  • Regulation of emotions

Competency: Self-Awareness

How It Presents?

  • Identifying and naming emotions
  • Understanding who one is and having a precise self-perception
  • Recognizing and appreciating one’s strengths
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-reliance

Competency: Social Awareness

How It Presents?

  • Appreciating different perspectives
  • Showing empathy
  • Tolerance and accepting diversity
  • Consideration and respect for others

Competency: Starting and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

How It Presents?

  • Effective communication
  • Healthy social engagement
  • Negotiation and relationship building
  • Promoting teamwork

Competency: Sound Decision-Making

How It Presents?

  • Identifying problems in different situations
  • Problem-solving
  • Evaluating choices
  • Self-reflection
  • Strong sense of ethical responsibility

Why Is Social-Emotional Learning Relevant for Adults?

Research shows that teachers are deeply affected by stress. They suffer from deteriorating wellbeing and mental health challenges as a result of dealing with a high-pressure job.

Due to the strain on their mental health, it’s not uncommon for teachers to have low job satisfaction, ultimately leading to poor student outcomes. Implementing SEL for teachers can help them cope with the frustration and stress they face.

In addition, SEL helps teachers to better fulfill their roles, thereby improving the classroom environment and overall climate, creating a safe place for young people to thrive.

Studies have also shown that teachers with good mental health and positivity helped impart those skills onto their learners. Programs that help facilitate good mental health and positivity in teachers also lead to improved outcomes with students.

Parents, guardians, and community members should not be left out of SEL initiatives.

Research has shown that students are more likely to adopt SEL practices if they see their parents behave the same way. They also perform better in academic and social settings.

This is why it’s important for schools and parents to pull in the same direction.

“I have noticed my son and I are more easily able to talk and be open with each other. He is trying harder in school and for most of the time at home. I feel we are closer than we have been in quite some time and communicate better with each other.” - Participant in PA Family Class, Uintah County

How to Implement Adult Social-Emotional Learning in Your School and Community

SEL programs have a higher impact when schools partner with parents and communities.

Engage With Families and Communities

Start by establishing a partnership between the school and families. It's critical to understand parental attitudes and views about the SEL programs.

Take time to talk to families through school-parent meetings, surveys, or home visits to jointly develop a road map for implementing the program.

Talk about essential fundamentals such as:

  • The role they expect SEL to play in education
  • How much they know about social-emotional learning and its implications
  • How they define their involvement with SEL

Keep the lines of communication open, so you can come to a common understanding. By working hand in hand with parents and all stakeholders, you can encourage higher buy-in and bring the adult SEL program to fruition.

It is also helpful to hold school events at regular intervals for families and teachers to come together and share how they are coping with the programs.

Introduce Wellness and Self-Care Programs for Teachers

Have a designated self-care program as part of your staff development.

Choose innovative ways to encourage teachers to prioritize self-care, for example:

  • Facilitate professional self-development workshops and courses that focus on adult self-care training
  • Provide recreational team-building exercises
  • Create time or space dedicated to fitness and wellness, such as yoga or meditation rooms for teachers
  • Introduce teachers to mindfulness. For instance, begin meetings with a few minutes of mindfulness exercises
  • Help teachers by sourcing resources to reduce stress
  • Provide gym memberships or reimbursements

Create a Resource Bank

Have a pool of resources ready to help teachers and parents understand what SEL is all about. For instance, you can create an online portal and designated school office for teachers and parents to access materials and other social-emotional learning activities.

For the best results, choose an evidence-based SEL program like Positive Action that has a track record of success.

Positive Action provides a comprehensive one-stop model that focuses on helping people understand how to maintain positive thoughts, actions and feelings.

The Positive Action SEL curriculum offers a six-unit step-by-step guide as shown below:

Unit 1: Self Concept


  • Thoughts-Actions-Feelings circle
  • Positive Action’s philosophy
  • Why it’s important to have a strong sense of self-concept

Unit 1: Self Concept


  • Thoughts-Actions-Feelings circle
  • Positive Action’s philosophy
  • Why it’s important to have a strong sense of self-concept

Unit 2: Physical and Mental Wellbeing


  • Actions that one can take to improve their physical wellbeing (for instance, maintaining a healthy diet and getting proper rest)
  • Intellectual positive activities such as critical thinking and problem solving

Unit 3: Unit 3: Self-Regulation


  • Behaviors for wise personal management in all areas, including emotions and finances

Unit 4: Social Interactions


  • How to get along with others
  • Empathy
  • Treating others as you would like them to treat you

Unit 5: Self-Honesty


  • How to see through excuses and pinpoint the realities in a situation
  • Understanding one's strengths and being honest about weaknesses
  • Speaking with honesty to others

Unit 6: Self-Improvement


  • How to use one’s skills in all areas of life
  • Setting goals
  • Making plans
  • Exerting an effort to pursue goals

Consider the following options for your resource library:

  • The Family Kit comes with plenty of engaging materials that include lessons and activities for families. It encourages positive actions in the home and everywhere else within the community.

  • The Family Classes Kit comes with one Family Kit and instructor’s manuals. The manuals provide instruction and classes that teach families the positive actions they need to implement in the home.

  • The Condensed Family Classes Kit is suited for community programs. It comes with materials for ten families, including seven classes and plenty of family activities.

  • The Parenting Classes Kit focuses only on parents. It includes the Family Kit, lessons, and activity booklets to help parents implement positive actions.

  • The Climate Kits for Secondary and Elementary levels help school administrators and teachers to implement actions that can turn the school climate around.

Creating an Enabling Environment for Learners to Thrive

Building a nurturing environment for children and youth starts with the adults in their lives.

That’s why social-emotional learning for adults should be a priority at school, home, and in the community.

Get on board with Positive Action’s family-oriented programs to bring a total transformation to the school and home environment based on positive thoughts, actions, and feelings. Our lessons have a 36-year track record of success in 16,000+ schools.

To find out more about how you can implement Positive Action’s social and emotional learning initiatives in your school or district, schedule a webinar or get in touch with us today.

“This is a wonderful program, built on a good philosophy. The teachers are very enthusiastic, and we’re getting good results.” - Dixie Allen, District Director, Uintah County