How to Incorporate SEL in the Classroom


A teacher and her young students enjoy each other’s company while working on an art project.Teaching children social emotional learning (SEL) is a goal of teachers inspired to go beyond focusing only on academics in their classroom. These teachers understand that SEL is just as important in preparing children for success throughout their academic journey and beyond.

Despite its importance, finding time to focus on SEL is challenging for teachers. It requires them to remain vigilant to discover opportunities to work SEL concepts into the classroom. Teachers learn to meet that challenge in social emotional learning professional development courses.

What Is Social Emotional Learning?

Social emotional learning refers to how children and adults understand and manage their emotions and develop empathy. Students who learn through SEL also develop skills needed to create and maintain positive relationships, create healthy identities, achieve personal and collective goals and make responsible decisions.

Studies have shown SEL improves student academic performance and teaches valuable life skills. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social emotional learning “can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy and just communities.”

In addition to academic improvement, research has established an association between SEL and students forming healthy relationships and experiencing mental wellness, according to CASEL.

Tips For Getting SEL Into the Classroom

With the value of SEL established, the biggest challenge is finding ways to incorporate it into the classroom. Most lessons in SEL center on the five core competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. They focus on:

  • Building collaborative partnerships with families, students and the larger educational community.
  • Familiarizing students with understanding and managing their own emotions, then moving into understanding and empathizing with the emotions of others.
  • Understanding trauma responses and how to use trauma-informed strategies to create a safe and supportive environment. Trauma impacts a student’s SEL skills, including their ability to manage emotions. They may internalize feelings and/or externalize aggression, anger and fear. Environments built on this understanding create safer environments for students.

Teachers can use SEL activities in the classroom and as homework assignments. Ideas for these activities and assignments include the following from Better Kids:

A Gratitude Journal

Adults long ago learned the benefits of journaling, but it also provides an effective way to enforce SEL skills for students. Writing about their lives every day helps them become more self-aware and better able to manage emotions. It also gives them time to reflect and focus on positive events. Questions that can help students write each day include:

  • What one person made you feel grateful today?
  • What one thing you ate today made you feel grateful?
  • What one thing can you/your body do right now that makes you feel grateful?

Create a Glitter Jar

The idea behind a glitter jar is that watching it can calm the senses and help students better manage emotions. Better Kids suggests verbal prompts for using the glitter jar, including, “It seems like you are experiencing a big emotion right now. Would you like to take out your glitter jar? When it settles, you might be ready to discuss what happened.”

Writing Letters, Drawing Pictures for Loved Ones

Communicating with relatives or close family friends helps bolster positive relations and allows students to reflect on what the relationship means to them. Writing loved ones a letter or drawing them a picture helps build relationship skills and increase social awareness.

Making a Daily Schedule

A daily schedule or “to do” list helps students stay focused and gives them a framework for the day that has consistency they find comforting. Scheduling also supports creating responsible decision-making skills and self-management, including time management skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises help oxygenate the blood, creating a feeling of calmness, especially when combined with stretching and other relaxation techniques. Breathing helps the body reset after experiencing strong emotions that can cause increased heart rate, higher body temperature and other issues.

The Fresno Pacific University SEL Courses

As part of its extensive series of professional development courses for teachers, Fresno Pacific University offers eight courses that help teachers incorporate SEL into their classrooms and earn a Social Emotional Learning Certificate. The courses include Whole Student Education for Social Learning, Social Emotional Learning Through Sports and Physical Education, Trauma-Informed Teaching and Helping Children Succeed.

Each course offers teachers an opportunity to earn professional development credits while learning about a different aspect of SEL. The goals of the courses include educating teachers on how to reinforce cooperative play and helping students feel like valued group members. Fresno Pacific offers all the self-paced courses 100% online.

By incorporating SEL into their classrooms, teachers boost their students’ academic achievements and sense of well-being. Few programs offer this unique combination, making learning to use SEL in the classroom one of the most important aspects of education a teacher can master.


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