how to implement sel in the classrooms
Sep 14 2023

How to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Classroom?

Positive Action Staff
Social emotional learning in the classroom has changed the way many teachers approach everything from primary academic subjects to free time and recess.

Social-emotional learning helps children develop positive self-esteem, manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, show empathy for others, and handle stress.

Most recent data shows 9.4% of U.S. children aged 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety. Providing children with coping mechanisms through emotional learning may help reduce the prevalence of anxiety, especially if teachers introduce SEL in early childhood.

Many educators view SEL as an essential piece of the puzzle to help students learn the soft skills they need to be productive, successful adults.

Further reading: What is SEL? / Social-Emotional Learning Defined

How to Implement SEL in the Classroom?

Teachers can integrate social-emotional learning into the learning environment side by side with the academic curriculum, teach it separately from Math, ELA, and other subjects, or implement it as an overall classroom philosophy.

By teaching parallel, yet age-appropriate, units at all grade levels, students benefit from continuity in SEL lesson plans. Early childhood teaching creates a solid foundation for more advanced SEL concepts.

Districts looking to implement SEL should first decide upon a comprehensive curriculum designed to:

  • Help students identify their own self-concept
  • Build self-esteem
  • Treat others well
  • Strive for self-improvement in all areas

These seven strategies that can help instructors ensure consistency across all grade levels to achieve the greatest results from teaching SEL.

1. Help students identify their self-concept

A student’s self-concept, or self-awareness, stands as a basic tenet of SEL in the classroom. A person’s self-concept relates to how they perceive themselves. Interactions with teachers, parents, and peers can shape a person’s self-concept.

A person’s self-concept relates to their strengths, weaknesses, and self-esteem. Presenting activities that let students get to the heart of who they are, what they believe, and how they feel about themselves forms the bedrock of SEL in the classroom.

Teachers can use activities into other subjects, such as ELA and social studies, or introduce separate discussions and activities that permit students to explore their self-concept.

2. Introduce positive actions for body and mind

Students feel good about themselves when they successfully complete positive actions. Taking even one positive step can set off a cascade effect leading to more positive actions and, ultimately, positive outcomes.

Teachers can easily integrate positive actions for the body into health class, physical education, and, for younger students, on the playground. They can take time out from the school day to let the children play a cooperative sport outside. They can also teach proper nutrition at snack time and hygiene by encouraging hand-washing throughout the day.

Educators can introduce positive actions for intellectual health during any subject by encouraging problem-solving and creative thinking.

Emphasizing positive physical and intellectual health as part of emotional learning helps students establish good habits to set them up for a lifetime of success.

3. Teach students to manage their feelings and their resources

If positive thoughts lead to positive actions and positive feelings, students must learn how to manage their thoughts and feelings to help foster positive behavior.

Integrating SEL in the classroom includes teaching students how to manage not just their thoughts, feelings, and actions, but also their:

  • Time
  • Energy
  • Possessions
  • Money
  • Talents

By doing so, students will gain a sense of responsibility that improves their self-concept and boosts their self-esteem.

Strategies to teach students responsibility could include giving them assignments with multiple components that need to be completed on a deadline, asking questions to get them thinking about their feelings and reactions to events, and even giving them opportunities to handle money in the school.

4. Teach empathy

Teachers from decades ago used to call it “The Golden Rule”: Treat others how you would like to be treated. Today, empathy plays a key role in social-emotional learning in the classroom.

Once students learn how to manage their feelings and reactions, they can learn how to treat others with kindness and respect. Teachers can embrace multiple opportunities to teach and demonstrate empathy.

They can reward positive student behavior by offering a small reward when a student performs a good deed. Some teachers put marbles or tickets in a jar or create a chain of paper links. When the jar is full, or the chain touches the ground, the students receive a party or special treat.

5. Teach students to face the truth

Even the best students don’t behave kindly all the time. They might make mistakes in their work or lose focus too easily sometimes.

Social-emotional learning can help students recognize shortcomings so that they can improve. Teachers may integrate self-assessments following tests in major subjects. They can also ensure that students take responsibility for their actions by making sure they complete homework assignments.

Group projects give teachers an excellent opportunity to use SEL strategies related to working together, taking responsibility rather than blaming others, and dividing tasks based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

6. Help students practice self-improvement strategies

Once students recognize their weaknesses and learn to own up to their mistakes, they can focus on self-improvement.

A growth mindset, or understanding that everyone can learn new skills, plays a key role in knowing how to successfully implement SEL.

Teachers at this phase of integrating social-emotional learning in the classroom should help students identify, set, track, and achieve goals. These goals could be related to academics, personal behavior, or physical and mental health.

Self-improvement ties into all the other elements of SEL, as students strive to grasp the soft skills related to their social and emotional development.

7. Review all aspects

As students continue to strive for improvement, teachers should implement a review of these six facets of SEL incorporation, helping students identify their weaknesses and study the areas where they might feel “stuck.”

An important thing that teachers should remember is the Thoughts-Actions-Feelings (TAF) Circle. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions, which lead to positive feelings, which, in turn, create more positive thoughts.

Outcomes of SEL Implementation

Social and emotional learning can help create more confident, kinder students who are better poised to face the stress of the outside world.

But you may be even more surprised by some of the positive academic outcomes teachers have discovered. Positive Action has been shown to:

  • Reduce bullying - Using SEL at school has been shown to reduce bullying by 51%, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

  • Improve math scores – Students who develop greater self-confidence through SEL may show up to 51% improvement in standardized math tests.

  • Improve literacy – Students who benefit from an SEL curriculum score an average of 20% better in reading achievement, according to the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.

  • Reduce violence in the school – From a reduction in violence in the classroom to a reduced number of threats, social-emotional learning gives students the tools to cope with their anger rather than resorting to violent words or acts.

  • Reduce suspensions – SEL implementation led to a 73% reduction in suspensions, indicating students are better behaved and following rules.

  • Reduce alcohol use – SEL in the classroom has helped reduce alcohol use by students, with the numbers of students who have ever tried alcohol dropping by 29%.

  • Reduce absenteeism – SEL can substantially reduce absenteeism, perhaps by reducing the number of “mental health” days students take or by instilling a greater responsibility to go to school.

  • Increase family bonding – Parents and children saw a reduction in family conflict and an increase in family bonding.

  • Increase overall positive development in early childhood – Based on multiple markers, pre-K students showed an increased positive development in areas ranging from self-esteem to physical health.

Perhaps more importantly, the core SEL competencies that students learn, carry through the graduation and their working years. SEL helps create young adults who are secure in themselves, better able to cope with the daily stresses of life, and more empathetic toward others.

How Positive Action Can Help?

Many different programs promise to teach students the skills they need to become emotionally intelligent adults able to cope with life.

By teaching a program that emphasizes how our thoughts become actions, which lead to positive (or negative) feelings, Positive Action makes social and emotional learning easy to understand and easy to integrate.

We guide you every step of the way with strategies to achieve buy-in from the administrators in the district and gradually deploy the program beginning with the earlier grades, where quick and easy lessons can make a significant impact.

During what we call the “Feeder Effect,” teachers will soon be able to recognize those students who used SEL. Seeing the difference between students who did and did not experience SEL encourages buy-in from the rest of the district and prompts secondary education teachers to continue with the program so they can continue to achieve a classroom full of emotionally intelligent, confident, empathetic students.

From Pre-K through secondary education, Positive Action can help you integrate our strategies seamlessly. Want to know more about Positive Action? Contact us.