How teachers can overcome the biggest challenges when implementing SEL

Whilst there are many positives to being an educator, unfortunately, there are many difficulties in the profession that often lead to poor teacher mental health. In fact, during COVID-19, MissionSquare Research Institute (2021) found that K-12 educators are the most likely to suffer from burnout, anxiety, and stress. And when teachers try to implement SEL in their classrooms, these sufferings are often heightened due to the extra set of hurdles they have to overcome.

In this blog, we highlight four of the major challenges teachers face when implementing SEL in their classrooms. We then provide our top tips for overcoming them.

1. Reduce burnout and demoralization

One of the most talked-about current issues for educators is burnout/demoralization. Burnout can be caused by a temporary perceived deficiency in a teacher’s personal and professional resources, whereas demoralization is caused by a negative and harmful work culture that makes the teacher feel they’re incapable of doing a good enough job.

Increased workplace support, salary increases, and fewer red tapes are some of the ways in which burnout and demoralization can be decreased among teachers. However, unfortunately, these solutions are often out of educators’ control.

Use Adult SEL for better teacher wellbeing

Encouraged by district leaders, schools should emphasize staff wellbeing and voices so educators can speak up about their problems, highlight any concerns, and keep in touch with school leaders regarding their health and happiness in the workplace. Additionally, teachers must find other efficient ways to cope with the stresses of the profession. For example, teachers should know how SEL can help them as well as their students. Adult social and emotional learning can be a great way for teachers to manage their emotions and check in with themselves. By recognizing their emotions and regulating their responses to stressful situations, teachers can not only demonstrate positive SEL practices to their students but also enjoy better mental health in the long run. 

For educators to be able to do this, district leaders should therefore actively encourage adult SEL in their schools. By teaching educators how they themselves can benefit from SEL, they gain a more intrinsic understanding of how SEL can work for their students and have a stronger ability to avoid burnout. The link between SEL benefits for students and benefits for educators will therefore become apparent and teachers will be keener to implement social emotional learning in their classrooms.

By teaching educators how they themselves can benefit from SEL, they gain a more intrinsic understanding of how SEL can work for their students and have a stronger ability to avoid burnout.

By teaching educators how they themselves can benefit from SEL, they gain a more intrinsic understanding of how SEL can work for their students and have a stronger ability to avoid burnout.

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2. Save time

Educators wear many hats in their profession and have a plethora of responsibilities. It’s therefore common that they often struggle to find the time to complete all their responsibilities, let alone complete them to a high standard. This problem has been worsened after many US states have begun pushing for schools to mix higher needs students into mainstream classrooms.

Use centralized toolkits and ready-made interventions

Using a centralized, intuitive database to document the progress of all students can help teachers immensely by having all the reports in one place. SEL toolkits can make the documentation process less intimidating for teachers and make logging student progress more time-efficient. When necessary, teachers can print the reports and show them to the relevant leaders in meetings, therefore spending less time writing up the reports and more time implementing solutions.

For those educators with intervention responsibilities, having a toolkit that provides its own intervention library with an extensive list of lesson plans, videos, and targeted SEL solutions, can make interventions even more effective and stress-free. Not only can they save teachers time by providing the content for them, but they can also offer solutions designed by SEL intervention experts and offer activities teachers may not have thought of themselves. Targeted solutions and plans are also less likely to be disregarded by time-strapped educators; specific SEL curriculums have a stronger impact and are more helpful for both teachers and students alike.

For more information, take a look at Satchel Pulse's example SEL library and learn more about how pre-made content can help your school district.

3. Improve SEL skills and knowledge

Another challenge teachers face when implementing SEL is their lack of SEL-related skills and knowledge. Educators are likely to require training in social emotional learning practices and this should be provided by their district leaders. When all is said and done, educators cannot be effective SEL teachers if they do not fully understand the concept, and they are not likely to be keen to implement it if they do not know the benefits. 

Attend district-provided SEL training

School districts should make efforts to provide SEL training, such as webinars and workshops, for their teachers. At a minimum, thorough SEL training should cover:

  • What social emotional learning is
  • Why it’s important
  • How to implement it in the classroom (ex. strategies such as environmental SEL or subject-specific SEL)
  • How teachers can implement it for themselves, and how this can improve their overall wellbeing
  • Why SEL toolkits are helpful and effective, and how to use them throughout the entire school district

As well as providing thorough SEL training for teachers, adult SEL should also be followed by district leaders in their professional practices, such as during work meetings with teachers. Leading by example demonstrates how SEL works and how it can be helpful.

4. Help families/caregivers understand SEL

In a similar vein, there’s not just a lack of understanding of SEL and its practices among educators, but it’s also possible that families and caregivers may misinterpret it too. For example, it’s a common misconception that social emotional learning and critical race theory are the same, and those that oppose the latter may instinctively oppose the former as well. Additionally, they may believe that SEL is only for students with higher needs and that it is a way of diagnosing mental or behavioral disorders, such as ADD.

Whilst this is, in fact, not true, when families/caregivers hear that their children are beginning social emotional learning in school they may start to worry. This could lead to backlash towards teachers (impacting teacher wellbeing and mental health as a result), and either hinder the SEL implementation process or stop it altogether. Since families and caregivers are “children’s first teachers”, they are, therefore “key partners in helping build children’s social and emotional competence. This role can be strengthened with broader awareness of SEL and what it means” (CASEL, n.d.).

Explain SEL directly and thoroughly

Families/caregivers should always have SEL explained to them and the benefits it can bring made clear, just as would be done for students. This can be done by either the teachers or, as a way to ease the responsibility burden of educators, by district leaders themselves. Remember to be direct and thorough when explaining SEL to families and caregivers, and always link back to the benefits it can bring to their children (both in school and at home). Families/caregivers should also understand the five main components of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

The four main challenges teachers face when implementing SEL in their classrooms are burnout/demoralization, a lack of time, a lack of skills, and a lack of understanding from other community stakeholders such as families/caregivers. These issues can be overcome by practicing adult SEL, being proactive with SEL training, having a clear line of communication with families/caregivers, and using a centralized, expert toolkit, such as our intuitive SEL solution.Click meReferences

CASEL. (n.d.). SEL with Families & Caregivers. Access it here.

MissionSquare Research Institute. (2021). K-12 public school employee views on finances, employment outlook, and safety concerns due to COVID-19. Read it here.

Learn more about Satchel Pulse in your district