How to discuss SEL with families/caregivers: a guide for teachers

Discussing SEL with families and caregivers can be tricky. Social emotional learning is often mistaken for other practices, such as critical race theory, or is viewed as only necessary for higher-needs students and those who struggle in school. This means that approaching the subject of SEL with families/caregivers can be a sensitive topic and lead to a backlash against teachers from people who possibly do not fully understand what it entails.

But in order for SEL to be most effective, it’s crucial that there’s an alignment of practices between those implemented in a student’s life at school and those implemented at home. In fact, studies show that evidence-based SEL programs have a higher rate of success when they are also extended to a student’s home life (Albright and Weissberg, 2010). This means that discussing SEL with a student’s parent or caregiver is vital to their SEL success. How this topic is approached by educators or district leaders should therefore be taken seriously to strive for the most positive outcome. In this article, we give our four top tips for educators discussing SEL with families and caregivers so that students’ SEL journeys can get off on the right foot with all of their educators, both in school and at home.

1. Be open about what SEL is right from the start

Approaching the subject of SEL with honesty and clarity right from the start saves potential confusion and allows families/caregivers to feel included in their children’s education. But there are often many misconceptions surrounding social emotional learning, such as that SEL is the same as critical race theory or that it is used to diagnose behavioral/mental disorders. In order for SEL discussions to begin smoothly, it would be wise to begin by clearing up these misconceptions at the start. Here is our example of a short, to-the-point explanation of SEL:

Social emotional learning (SEL) was first coined 26 years ago by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). 

SEL aims to:

  • advance educational and social excellence
  • teach and implement social, emotional, and academic competencies
  • foster healthy, successful learning conditions from Pre-K to Grade 12

SEL does not aim to:
  • aid in the diagnosis of mental or behavioral disorders
  • teach or promote social and intellectual movements such as critical race theory

It is also worth stressing to families and caregivers that SEL is not a subject in itself, but rather an integration of skills to encourage the social, emotional, and academic development of the students. Implementing SEL will not mean extra classes, homework or activities for students, and in many cases social emotional learning is already practiced on a day-to-day basis without educators or students realizing it. This is because SEL focuses on the five core competencies outlined by the CASEL framework. These are:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Responsible decision making

2. Be particular about when this discussion is necessary

Although honesty is the best policy, and Satchel Pulse strongly encourages home engagement in their child’s education and school district, some effective SEL practices are so easy to implement and require so little teacher effort that they do not require permission from home. These subtle, less formal practices often fall under the bracket of environmental SEL and may include:

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

3. Welcome engagement from families and caregivers in all aspects of the school district

Families and caregivers are “children’s first teachers, and… key partners in helping build children’s social and emotional competence” (CASEL, n.d.). To strengthen the bond between school districts and families, district stakeholders should incite community spirit and encourage engagement from its stakeholders. Families and caregivers should be made to feel welcome in their school district, and know that their voices are heard and opinions are taken seriously. If a family or caregiver feels comfortable, engaged, and accepted in their district community, they are more likely to be receptive to new ideas brought forward by educators, such as implementing SEL in the classroom.

Approaching the subject of SEL with honesty and clarity right from the start saves potential confusion and allows families/caregivers to feel included in their children’s education.

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When discussing SEL, educators and district leaders should leave time during discussions for families/caregivers to ask any questions they may have. If this is taking place as a presentation for a large audience, you could leave it until the end of your presentation to ask for audience questions. If this is taking place over email, you should give details such as your office phone number and work hours so that families/caregivers may contact you with any queries and concerns. You could also organize a drop-in session!

For more information on how to engage your school community and the importance of doing this, you can read our tips here.

4. Always link back to the benefits for their children

Families and caregivers are undoubtedly most interested in how SEL will impact their children. This is why every point educators make when discussing SEL should link back to how the students will benefit from it. While the benefits to social emotional learning are inextricably linked with each other, it may be advantageous to divide them into ‘short-term’ and ‘long-term’. This will really highlight how SEL can help children both now and in the future. The general, long-term aim of SEL is to create productive, engaged future citizens, but here are some examples of other benefits educators can discuss with families/caregivers:

Short-term benefits to SEL

  • Improved academic results and outcomes
  • Improved classroom behavior
  • A healthier classroom and school environment
  • A more understanding approach to diverse cultures and backgrounds
  • Improved relationships between students, teachers, and other faculty members
  • Improved mental health and wellbeing

Long-term benefits to SEL

  • Increased ability to set and stick to positive goals
  • Increased ability to manage stress and other negative emotions
  • Improvement in economic mobility
  • Increased preparedness for college and career
  • Increased ability to communicate well with others
  • Effective team member skills
  • Increased ability to get along well with others
  • Increased ability to empathize and support others

Note that these lists are not exhaustive, and it would even serve educators well to personalize these benefits to their students. For example, if the family/caregiver of one student is particularly worried about their child’s stress-management skills, you should highlight how SEL can alleviate this issue in particular.

For more information on the advantages of SEL, check out our blog here.Click meReferences

Albright, M. I., & Weissberg, R. P. (2010). School-family partnerships to promote social and emotional learning. In S. L. Christenson, & A. L. Reschly (Eds.), Handbook of school-family partnerships for promoting student competence (pp. 246-265). New York: Routledge.

CASEL. 2020. CASEL’s SEL Framework. Access it here.

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

Learn more about Satchel Pulse in your district