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Social and Emotional Learning

How to Become a Social Emotional Learning Specialist

5 Min Read
Teacher with students in classroom

As teachers, we’ve long understood the importance of relationships to impact student growth. Helping students develop their own emotional intelligence and the skills to manage their emotions can be just as important as helping them master content. In fact, according to a study conducted by the World Economic Forum, social and emotional competencies rank among the skills that will be needed in the workplace in the future. 

But teaching students how to be emotionally intelligent doesn’t happen by accident. It takes work, a plan, and training — and it also takes a specific type of educator who specializes in teaching social-emotional learning skills, such as a social-emotional learning specialist. The job of the SEL specialist is to ensure that all students are developing skills like self-awareness and self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision-making skills. 

Importance of a Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum  

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a growing trend in education, and for good reason. It helps kids learn how to manage their emotions and develop positive social skills, making them more resilient in the face of challenges. An SEL curriculum can be an important strategy to creating a positive learning environment and improving student outcomes.  

Educating students in SEL helps them develop a set of skills that underpin their ability to understand and manage emotions, effectively handle relationships, make positive and healthy decisions, and deal with the challenges of everyday life. It isn’t an academic subject like math or reading. It’s about supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing, helping them identify their strengths and weaknesses, and giving them the tools they need for conflict resolution and problem solving.  

Students who receive instruction in SEL have been shown to have higher academic achievement, improved social skills, and fewer behavioral problems. That’s because teaching these skills supports the development of their ability to: 

  • Communicate and collaborate effectively with others 
  • Develop self-awareness and self-management skills 
  • Solve problems effectively 
  • Understand and regulate their emotions 

SEL specialists help to develop SEL curriculum in schools, provide training and resources to teachers, and work with students in the classroom so that they can develop their SEL skills.  

What Is an SEL  Specialist? 

A social emotional learning specialist helps school staff — including teachers and administrators — understand SEL and how to implement it in the classroom. The SEL specialist usually has a background in education or psychology. In addition, they have a deep knowledge of the research behind SEL techniques and know which techniques work best with different types of students. An SEL specialist can work with teachers to provide SEL training, administrators to develop a school-wide SEL program, and directly with students in the classroom. Here are some SEL specialist responsibilities: 

  • Working with a group of students throughout the school year to help them hone their SEL skills 
  • Developing an SEL curriculum and incorporating SEL competencies into academic frameworks 
  • Adopting an implementation plan and method for tracking school-wide SEL initiatives 
  • Training and collaborating with teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and other stakeholders on implementing the SEL program 
  • Supporting students and assessing their progress 
  • Reviewing and analyzing data to strategically allocate resources, which goals or skills to target, and how to modify the SEL program 
  • Reporting to teachers, principles, parents, and school boards on the SEL program progress 

Requirements for Becoming an SEL Specialist 

To become an social-emotional learning specialist, you need to understand the fundamentals of SEL. This means understanding what it is, what its goals are, how it can help students succeed, how to tailor lessons for specific groups of students or situations, how to measure progress, and more. 

The required qualifications for a social-emotional learning specialist vary, though they typically include: 

  • Teaching experience (or an undergraduate degree in education) 
  • Bachelor’s degree in education, counseling, psychology, social work, or another behavior-based discipline 
  • Knowledge of age-appropriate social-emotional development and SEL 
  • Experience working in a school setting 

SEL Certification and Advanced Degrees for Teachers 

A great way to strengthen your social-emotional learning knowledge is through an social emotional learning certification or master’s degree program. SEL certification programs are offered online, in person, and through hybrid models. This is a helpful option for teachers who either want the professional know-how to implement SEL in their classroom or want to pursue a new career as an SEL specialist.  

Spearheading Social-Emotional Learning Initiatives 

A teacher or school professional who is interested in becoming an SEL specialist can also gain valuable experience by advocating for SEL responsibilities in their own schools. If your school already has an SEL program, you can volunteer to assist with implementing the program, tracking progress, or mentoring other teachers and providing professional support. 

If your school doesn’t yet have an SEL program, you can either independently implement SEL tools in your classroom or can advocate for a schoolwide SEL program. Your school might not be able to fund a full-time SEL specialist role, but they might be able to offer an additional stipend, funding for some resources, or other support in the creation of a program. 

Spearheading the social-emotional learning initiative in your school would offer firsthand experience in the role of an SEL specialist. Not only would the opportunity give you insight into whether or not you’d like to become an SEL specialist, but it would help bolster your portfolio with experience if you did decide to pursue the career. 

The SEL Specialist Is at the Center

Consider becoming a social-emotional learning specialist if you’re passionate about education and want to work with a vibrant and dynamic group of people toward a common goal. SEL specialists coordinate with multiple stakeholders across various areas of education. Some days might involve working in small-group sessions with students or providing additional professional development for teachers implementing the SEL program. Other days might involve reviewing program data and working with school leadership on how to best allocate resources and navigate the program moving forward.  Implementing SEL involves multiple parties working in tandem with one another — with the SEL specialist at the center of it all.  

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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