HMH Support is here to help you get back to school right. Get started


How to Create an Effective SEL Professional Development Training for Teachers and Staff

5 Min Read
Two teachers talking with a tablet

The success of any social-emotional learning (SEL) framework relies on the teachers and staff tasked with implementing the program. As a leader, you can help them implement the best program possible by offering social-emotional learning professional development within your school and district.

For those new to SEL, professional development provides the foundational knowledge and initial tools needed to implement SEL in the school and classroom. For staff already using the framework, SEL teacher training gives them ongoing support and resources needed to maximize their impact.

Whether you’re creating a new curriculum or want to bolster the program you already have, the tips below will help you create an effective plan.

Benefits of SEL Training for Teachers and Staff

Investing in SEL training for teachers and staff yields returns across classrooms and school districts.. Social-emotional learning helps students build critical skills like goal setting, problem-solving, anger and stress management, and more.

Benefits include:

  • Reduces teacher burnout. SEL techniques aren’t just for students. Teachers can use the same self-regulation and coping skills to combat stress, burnout, and fatigue.  
  • Improves staff buy-in. An SEL training program provides teachers and staff with data and research to support the impact of SEL. This background helps staff understand why the school is pursuing SEL and how the framework can benefit staff and students.
  • Increases SEL adoption and outcomes. By giving staff the tools and support they need to successfully implement SEL, you’re ensuring a smoother adoption of SEL and a more cohesive, structured program for students and staff.
  • Improves professional climate. Not only does SEL help teachers reduce burnout, but it also teaches staff skills like empathy that improve their professional relationships and environment. 

How to Deliver Social-Emotional Learning Professional Development

Professional development for SEL will look different for every school or district. The curriculum will vary depending on whether you implement a professional SEL program or develop your own. The delivery will also look different with models ranging from traditional seminars to online programs. A hybrid model can even help schools reach a diverse range of staff across all areas of a school or district.

Examples of SEL training models include:

Tips for Effective SEL Teacher Training

When providing your social-emotional learning training for teachers and staff, remember to follow a few of the best practices below. These tips help staff absorb the material more easily, offer support for smoother SEL implementation, and give staff the necessary tools to effectively promote SEL in the school and classroom.

Invest in coaching 

Even if you break your PD into multiple sessions, staff will absorb a lot of information. SEL coaching can help them successfully implement their new skills. Coaching usually provides classroom feedback, observation, and professional development tools that promote the successful adoption of SEL in your school.

Foster collaboration 

In addition to coaching from trained coaches, the collaboration between staff members is a huge function of successful SEL training. Collaboration can be any number of things depending on what works best for your staff. 

Some examples include: 

  • Peer-to-peer mentoring
  • Sharing of best practices
  • Public recognition of one another’s SEL successes (like shout-outs)

Offer ongoing support 

SEL training is only as successful as the follow-up support that leadership provides. Either during training sessions or throughout the year, supporting educators is as important as inviting feedback, checking in regularly with staff, and making sure everyone has the tools and support necessary to implement your SEL initiative successfully.

How to Design Your SEL Professional Development Curriculum

Social-emotional learning doesn’t have a strict curriculum because every school will tailor the SEL fundamentals to their own environment, resources, and needs. Similarly, no two SEL professional development programs will look the same. Each will be tailored based on the current staff’s SEL knowledge, calendars or time available for training, and other factors.

While the details will vary, effective SEL PD for teachers should all include the same core areas:

SEL training module: What is SEL?

Provide the background for SEL — its history, data supporting its efficacy, and its benefits. This is an important time to review the ‘why’ behind implementing SEL. It helps your teachers and staff understand what is driving this initiative and what outcomes will hopefully come from it. 

For example:

Review case studies of schools that have implemented SEL – what similar challenges does your school face, and how can SEL improve those outcomes? Outline your school or district’s specific SEL plan, resources, and goals. Present data that supports the efficacy of SEL and illustrates the research behind its practices.

SEL training module: SEL for the professional

While the benefits of SEL usually focus on the students, SEL is an important tool for educators, too. In this module, you can review how teachers and staff can adopt SEL principles to benefit themselves both in and out of the classroom.

For example, you can help staff experience the evidence based benefits of SEL by incorporating activities and best practices in your professional meetings, future training, and other professional gatherings. You can also review how to use different SEL tools to reduce burnout and manage stress. 

SEL training module: Bringing SEL into the classroom 

The best training gives strategies – with clear examples – for how staff and teachers can implement the core competencies of SEL. Staff will have different levels of involvement with your SEL curriculum depending on their roles in the school or district. Providing real-world examples of how they can use SEL techniques will help everyone understand expectations for relatable scenarios. 

SEL strategies for self-awareness:

When reading stories, ask students to think of a time when they felt similar emotions to the character. Students can discuss responses in groups or write answers privately.

SEL strategies for self-management:

Guide students through the decision-making process when so they can review the triggers and outcomes of their emotions. Prompt reflection with questions like, “How did the problem make you feel?” “What did you do for this problem?” “What happened for you and for those around you?” “If you are in this problem again someday, what can you do differently to avoid that negative outcome?”

SEL strategies for responsible decision-making:

Have students reflect on how the decisions they make impact their goals. For example: “How did choosing to stay up late watching the movie impact your goal to do well in your soccer game the next day?” Ask them to reflect on how they might react differently if presented with a similar decision to make in the future.

SEL strategies for relationship skills:

During an activity, have students participate as a class or in a series of small groups. In the end, have them reflect on how they worked in a group: where did they work well together? Where could they improve? What do they think a successful group needs?

SEL strategies for social awareness:

Ask your students to write down a list of behaviors that would positively and negatively impact someone. What would make someone feel good? What would make them feel bad? Encourage them to understand how people might respond in certain situations and what behaviors would elicit positive or negative responses from another person.

Strengthening Your SEL Program Through Training

Social-emotional learning has been shown to improve student academic outcomes, boost teacher morale, and foster a more positive school environment overall. Providing SEL professional development for teachers and staff ensures they have the tools and support needed to deliver the best SEL program possible.

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.


Find more lesson plans and classroom resources on Shaped.

Related Reading

Bridgeport success into math manipulatives

Brenda Iasevoli
Shaped Executive Editor

Personalized Learning Hero

Jennifer Prescott
Shaped Contributor

An Introduction to the HMH Coachly Coaching Framework Context

Dr. Grant Atkins
Education Research Director, Professional Services