Social and Emotional Learning

5 Social-Emotional Learning Strategies Teachers Can Use Now

5 Min Read
Sel Blog Post Rev2 1

The learning environment matters. Schools that integrate social-emotional learning into instruction equip students to persevere and master rigorous content. Research shows that students in these settings experience increased academic gains.

How can you incorporate SEL into the school day to ensure students thrive? Try these five tips, and then take our interactive quiz below.

1. Point Out Model Behavior in Books

Reading does more than improve vocabulary, fluency, and other literacy skills. The right books give us heroes to look up to. These heroes don’t have to save lives like Superman does. They can be everyday heroes whose superpower is simply being kind to others. When a character in a book makes a good choice, point it out to students. Ask:

  • What makes the choice a wise one?
  • What could happen if the character takes a different route?
  • If you have been in a similar situation, how did it feel?
  • What choice did you make, and why?

Decorate your classroom and hallways with students’ illustrations of characters they emulate. If students are learning at home, encourage them to hang the illustrations in their bedrooms, or in the space where they do their schoolwork. Have them write a paragraph describing what makes the character worthy of emulation to accompany the illustration. Point out when students are acting like their heroes and encourage their classmates to do the same. Add books featuring heroes making wise choices and helping their communities to your classroom library.

2. Build Strong Relationships

Building relationships based on trust is key in creating a school environment where students achieve academic, social, and emotional success. Teachers can start by simply getting to know their students, learning about their backgrounds and what makes them tick. Holding morning meetings can help. If you're doing remote learning right now, as most schools are, hold morning meetings using Zoom. This is a time for students to air grievances and work through problems with their classmates’ support. Greeting students by name at the classroom door also goes a long way toward building a supportive learning space.

What about outside the classroom? Small-scale strategies called “kernels” can build relationships and resolve conflicts in the lunchroom, hallways, at recess, and even at home. The use of these strategies has been tied to academic achievement and improved classroom discipline and self-control. Take the “turtle method,” for example, one of a menu of strategies that has proved effective at reducing a child’s aggression toward peers or even adults. Children hug themselves and breathe through their nose. This calms them down and signals to adults that they need help.

3. Introduce Students to Real-World Role Models

Children learn by example, which is why it’s a good idea to discuss the choices characters make in books, as Tip #2 suggests. You can make a similar study of real-life stories of young people who are making the world a better place.

Show students an episode of the Carmen Sandiego: Fearless Kids Around the World video series. One episode spotlights 14-year-old Pablo Cavanzo from Bogota, Colombia, whose mission is to save the planet from climate change. Pablo joined 24 other young people in a lawsuit against his country’s government, claiming it doesn’t do enough to stop pollution and deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. In other episodes, students meet a 16-year-old from England who is empowering kids with learning differences, a 15-year-old from New York who is speaking out against bullying, and several others.

After students watch a video, ask them what makes the featured kid “fearless.” Discuss the problems these young people are tackling in their communities. Ask students how they would improve life in their own corner of the world. Challenge them to identify a problem in their community and devise a plan for solving it. And be sure to check out the lesson plans that accompany each video. There, you’ll find projects that will sharpen students’ academic skills while helping them build relationships, social awareness, and good decision-making.

4. Get Advice from SEL Experts and Veteran Teachers

It makes sense to rely on SEL experts and veteran teachers who know the strategies that have proved successful with students. How can you find these experts? The ICLE webinar series for Future Ready Educators is the place to start. You can choose from nine webinars in total. Some you can watch now on topics such as how to support students with anxiety and depression, how to apply the principles of neuroscience to instruction, and how to have courageous conversations about race. Some are upcoming, so you’ll have to register for them.

A webinar on April 9 will feature Dr. Stephanie Jones, professor of child development and education at Harvard University. She will share three big ideas for educators to consider as they reimagine how social-emotional learning can happen in and outside of school. Choose the webinars that meet your particular needs and will best help you help your students. Check out the ICLE webinars for Future Ready Educators.

5. Foster Growth Mindset with Reading Instruction

Research shows that students with a “growth mindset,” the belief that their skills can be developed through perseverance and help from others, outperform students with a “fixed mindset,” or those who believe their abilities are set in stone. English language arts lessons can offer an opportunity to help students develop a growth mindset.

You might acknowledge that reading can be a struggle for any of us. How many times have you started a book only to end up confused, or read the same passage over and over trying to figure out what you missed? Or encountered an unfamiliar word? The experience is universal. If you notice students skipping over words they don’t know, model how you figure out a word’s meaning. Read a passage aloud and demonstrate how to use contextual clues to uncover the word’s meaning, and look up the word in the dictionary to ensure you’ve got it right. With the right strategies woven through their literacy instruction, students can learn to keep at it, even when the going gets rough. All along, they’ll be strengthening SEL competencies such as self-management and responsible decision-making that will help them succeed in school and life.


Dig deeper into teachers’ and administrators’ views on SEL and other issues in education. Check out the Educator Confidence Report today.

Learn how to integrate social and emotional learning across all subject areas with our SEL curriculum.

Get our free SEL guide full of research-backed information.

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