How teachers can successfully introduce and integrate SEL

You might know by now that there’s a multitude of advantages to including social emotional learning in your classroom, but it’s a whole other challenge to integrate it successfully. For teachers hoping to embed SEL into their curriculum well, there are a few things they need to know.

Be holistic, not traditional


Traditionally, SEL may be implemented in a curriculum with one adult staff member at the helm, usually a teacher or school social worker, who gives isolated SEL lessons to a handful of students. However, research shows that this is not completely effective (Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2016). Instead, social emotional learning should be integrated holistically throughout the school (or even district) so that students are receiving the maximum benefit from the practices. This is not to say that targeting development in specific SEL competencies for students that need it is not beneficial. In fact, small-scale interventions are strongly encouraged. Rather, in order to capitalize on the maximum potential of SEL practices, it is better to approach the integration holistically and, if possible, get the support of the whole school/district.

Social emotional learning should be integrated holistically throughout the school (or even district) so that students are receiving the maximum benefit from the practices.

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Assess, reassess, and reassess again


In order to be able to embed SEL into your lessons, you first need to assess your students’ SEL competencies to gauge where they currently are in their social emotional development and in which areas they need to improve. Only once you’ve done this, will you know which SEL competencies to hone in on in class and not waste time and resources helping students in areas in which they don’t need. Furthermore, knowing where your students were developmentally at the start of the SEL implementation process will help track their progress in the long term. Going forward, having continuous, subtle reassessments through the school year will keep everyone on track and SEL practices at their most effective.

SEL assessment is vital to SEL success. Find out more here.

Share the ‘why’


Underlining why you’re implementing SEL in your curriculum communicates to everyone involved why they should be eager too. It inspires action and is particularly useful for feedback to district boards and staff meetings. It also helps consolidate in your own mind why you’re taking these measures, and reminding yourself of your ‘why’ can help tremendously on those days with “initiative fatigue”.

You can read more about the importance of sharing the ‘why’ here.

Make plans


It’s also crucial for teachers to make plans for their SEL integration, rather than just including some SEL practices here and there. This can be particularly daunting, especially in larger school districts where SEL is being embedded district-wide.

Once the competencies of your students have been evaluated, you need to consider the resources and manpower at your disposal. Is social emotional learning being implemented on a school-wide scale, as advised in Point 1, on a departmental-wide scale, or only by yourself? This will help you gauge the work that needs to be done and who it should be done by. “A needs and resource assessment also will help you identify what additional resources are required to sustain your efforts beyond a short-lived initiative” and therefore helps keep all stakeholders in the SEL effort supported and engaged (CASEL, 2019).

Next, consider the end goal. What does SEL success look like for you? With your sights set on your end goal, work backward in increments to figure out the individual steps that are needed to get there.

Planning out your SEL journey is not just imperative for your progress, but also to stress to others how important SEL really is - show your finalized plan to any skeptical school leaders and demonstrate your dedication to SEL success. It’s also worth checking to see if your state already has any SEL state policies in place (you can do that here).

Small steps toward big progress


One necessary attribute your plan should have is that it should work its way forward in small steps. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and always set yourself up for small wins. This is a sure-fire way to get you toward your end goal and is less likely to result in frustration, disheartenment, and the desire to just give up.

A good starting point for teachers implementing SEL in their classrooms is to begin with a few environmental SEL practices. It’s even likely you’re already doing a few of these anyway. Some examples of these are:

  • Asking students how they’re feeling
  • Making eye contact with students
  • Encouraging students to check in with their emotions
  • Encouraging students to re-evaluate their approaches to certain situations
  • Implementing SEL in your own life outside the classroom and therefore being a positive influence on your students

Remember - start small and think big! It is worth also bearing in mind, should you be looking to implement systematic SEL on a larger scale, that these are long-term initiatives - think three to five years for larger districts. But with “a commitment to continuous improvement… (and a) regular process for monitoring and reflecting on district- and school-level SEL implementation and progress”, you’ll be on your way to the SEL success you’ve planned for (CASEL, 2019).

Anticipate challenges


Implementing SEL successfully into your curriculum is not easy and there will be many setbacks and hurdles you will need to overcome. For troubleshooting certain challenges in particular, you can read our guide here. However, in order to overcome these challenges as efficiently as possible, you’ll first need to anticipate what they may be. Are there financial restrictions to your plan? Are your school leaders on board with implementing SEL or do they need convincing? Which students in your class may struggle the most with certain SEL competencies? Carrying out SEL assessments and brainstorming potential problem areas can help prepare for any challenges.Click meReferences

CASEL. (2019). Making the Shift to a Systemic Approach to SEL. Read it here.

Harvard Graduate School of Education. (2016). What Makes SEL Work. Read it here.

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