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Teaching Strategies | Social Emotional Learning | February 27, 2024

Social-Emotional Learning Starts with Us

We can’t teach a classroom full of students how to play the guitar unless we ourselves know how to rock out. Why? We can’t teach what we don’t know. The same is true for social-emotional skills. In this article, we will explore the importance and the process of developing our own personal social-emotional skills to be effective educators and support our students with their social-emotional learning (SEL).

SEL for Success

Teachers, administrators, and support staff are most effective when they understand and develop their own personal social-emotional capacities before addressing those of their students. That’s why social-emotional learning starts with adults.

Teaching can be stressful. You know it. We know it. Science knows it. In fact, teaching has been recognized as one of the most stressful jobs in the United States (Herman, Hickmon-Rosa, and Reinke 2018; Lopez and Sidhu 2013). What if we told you that bringing more ease to your own life and practicing social-emotional learning (SEL) is an invaluable part of your students’ success?

SEL Core Competencies

The CASEL Framework creates a foundation for applying evidence based SEL strategies to your community. As you read the definitions of CASEL’s five SEL core competencies below, think about how these various areas show up in your own life and where you might like to bolster your skills. We’ve also added an SEL strategy you can use for each competency.


Self-awareness is the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose. For example, this could be identifying emotions, having a growth mindset, linking feelings, values and thoughts as well as identifying personal, cultural and linguistic assets.


Name your emotions! We are more likely to be swept up in emotions we fail to detect. Labeling our emotions helps us identify and communicate our feelings and can serve as important data.


Self-management is the ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals. Examples include managing emotions, identifying, and using stress-management strategies, setting personal and collective goals, using planning and organizational skills, or showing the courage to take initiative.



Practice the pause! It’s so normal to react immediately when something happens. In doing so, we can miss the opportunity to slow down and check-in with ourselves to make sure we’re showing up in a way that’s best for us and others around us. Taking a moment creates an opening to skillfully respond instead of reacting.


Social Awareness

Social Awareness is the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, to understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and support. For example, seeing others’ perspectives, recognizing strengths in others, demonstrating empathy and compassion, identifying diverse social norms, including unjust ones and understanding the influences of systems on behavior.


Use an asset lens! Our brains are designed to easily see deficits and what’s “not working” in any given moment. While it’s common to do so, it often isn’t helpful or empowering for anyone involved. Seeing students and colleagues for their strengths creates more motivation, positive reinforcement and a stronger foundation for your relationship and the love of learning.

Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills is the ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, to listen actively, to cooperate, as well as to navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities. Other examples include practicing teamwork and collaborative problem-solving, negotiating conflict constructively, seeking or offering support and help when needed, and standing up for the rights of others.


Make connections! “Relationships are at the heart of schooling” (that’s from Mark Twain, we can’t take the credit). Sending a positive note home strengthens home-school connections while also positively reinforcing certain behaviors. Taking the five minutes to write a note strengthens your relationship with the student, their guardians and likely creates a feel-good moment at home. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!

Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible Decision-making is the ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacity to consider ethical standards and safety concerns and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being. For example, demonstrating curiosity and open-mindedness; learning how to make a reasoned judgment after analyzing information, data, and facts; anticipating; and evaluating the consequences of one’s actions and recognizing how critical-thinking skills are useful both inside and outside of school.


Call in support! We make so many decisions a day, let’s use tools and strategies to make the best decisions possible. Using a decision tree is a graphic visual that helps us evaluate consequences to ultimately make better decisions. When in doubt, call on a friend to run through your pros and cons list. Decisions don’t need to be made alone!

Quality SEL instruction occurs when educators are emotionally aware. Emotionally aware educators are more adaptive, resilient and are better able to connect to their students. As a result, you are an integral part of creating a classroom environment for students to thrive in. Not only will this understanding of SEL increase the quality of relationships with your students and colleagues, but it will also contribute to your overall sense of well-being.

Herman, K. C., Hickmon-Rosa, J., & Reinke, W. M. (2018). Empirically Derived Profiles of Teacher Stress, Burnout, Self-Efficacy, and Coping and Associated Student Outcomes. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(2), 90-100.  

Lopez , S. J., & Sidhu, P. (2023, May 14). In U.S., newer teachers most likely to be engaged at work. 



Author Bio:

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Trisha DiFazio, M.A. Ed., Education Consultant

Trisha DiFazio is an education consultant for Teacher Created Materials (TCM) and a former adjunct professor in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California (USC). Trisha was also a contributing author on TCM’s Language Power: Building Language Proficiency series as well as Creating Social Emotional Learning Environments. She is passionate about empowering teachers and students around Social Emotional Learning as well as Culturally and Linguistically Responsive...

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