Skip to main content

Support an SEL Classroom Culture: Can’t Pour from an Empty Jug

  • 4 Min Read

The role professional development can and should play in helping equip educators to bring SEL to life in their classrooms.


The pandemic has shown us that supporting students to develop patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can be just as critical as nurturing other academic competencies. To help them thrive, we need to address their well-being. Integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) into the curriculum is one way we can do that.

But to help support students in developing their social-emotional skills, educators need to be armed with the right tools, and they need to know how to use them.

In this blog—the first in a five-part series—we take a closer look at the role professional development can and should play in helping equip educators to bring SEL to life in their classrooms.

What Is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) In Schools?

Social-emotional learning is a behavioral framework that can be used to help children cultivate interpersonal skills and manage their own emotions. It includes five competencies that are distinct from, but also integral to, academic learning.

According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), they’re defined as:

  1. Self-awareness: The ability for a person to recognize both what their own feelings, beliefs, and values are and how those attitudes affect their actions and behaviors.
  2. Self-management: The ability for a person to effectively regulate their own emotions in a range of situations.
  3. Social awareness: The ability for a person to understand and empathize with others, including those from different backgrounds and cultures.
  4. Relationship skills: The ability for a person to establish positive relationships with others and maintain them while navigating various social settings.
  5. Responsible decision-making: The ability for a person to make well-thought-out decisions about their behavior and how it may impact themselves and others.

SEL doesn’t function as a designated subject like science or math, nor is it restricted to the classroom. It places a strong emphasis on developing the core competencies across four key settings—in classrooms, in schools, with families and caregivers, and in the community.

SEL Policy Brief promotion

Three Ways to Promote SEL Professional Development for Teachers

1. Learn

In order to help effectively implement SEL for students, educators must cultivate their own social and emotional skills as well. High-quality professional development can play a big role in helping teachers and administrators strengthen their personal knowledge so they can better support peers and students:

  • Provide resources that show educators how they can aid in integrating SEL in their classroom. These could include strategy guides, assessment workbooks, and SEL academic plans.
  • Use different mediums to deliver information, including online content they can access anywhere and videos that walk them through how to apply SEL strategies in different learning environments.
  • Establish SEL development opportunities for specific groups of staff (e.g., principals, teachers, and counselors) to offer ongoing coaching and support.

2. Collaborate

It’s important for educators to be able to have conversations with others about SEL in order to improve programs and practices. Create opportunities for educational staff to talk about how they’re using it with their students, share successes, work through struggles, and get feedback.

Consider implementing practices such as:

  • Create peer mentoring opportunities and partnerships to provide safe spaces for educators to discuss and practice SEL skills.
  • Encourage flexible communication through discussion forums, conference calls, or video meetings on SEL teaching practices.
  • Build in checkpoints throughout the year so that educational staff are able to pause and reflect on their own growth and development.

3. Model

Finally, educators should be able to model SEL behaviors and competencies. This sets the tone for the learning community and lets students see what the skills look like in action.

Here are examples of how educators can model the five SEL competencies, both in the classroom and beyond:

  • Practice self-awareness by recognizing your emotions and discussing them with those around you, including students, in safe and appropriate ways.
  • Show self-management by demonstrating your ability to manage stress and set and achieve goals.
  • Demonstrate social awareness by appreciating and accepting the feelings and perspectives of those around you.
  • Exhibit relationship skills by acknowledging the efforts of others with encouragement and affirmation.
  • Display responsible decision-making by considering how your choices will be viewed through the lens of a student.

While it’s important to teach students SEL at a conceptual level, it’s equally important that they consistently see it modeled in person. Implementing SEL in a systematic way can help embed these competencies in all aspects of the educational experience.

Learn How You Can Support Learning Growth for All Students with Brightspace

Discover the strategies and tools to support learning recovery in K-12 this fall.

Fill out this form to receive a free policy brief on Supporting Social Emotional Learning to Help Enable Student Recovery

Written by:

Zeina Abouchacra

Stay in the know

Educators and training pros get our insights, tips, and best practices delivered monthly

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) In Schools?
  2. Three Ways to Promote SEL Professional Development for Teachers
  3. Learn How You Can Support Learning Growth for All Students with Brightspace