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Learning Library Blog 3 Ways Teachers Can Integrate SEL Into Learning
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3 Ways Teachers Can Integrate SEL Into Learning

By Jorge Valenzuela
November 3, 2021
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The coronavirus crisis has compelled educators everywhere to make new pedagogical shifts to meet the demands of online teaching. Teachers will continue to be challenged to use education technology to make learning engaging and design lessons with content that is much more relevant to the students they serve. 

Relevancy in learning has taken on a new meaning as many educators now understand the importance of actively integrating social-emotional learning (SEL) into their lessons in tandem with academic and career learning. This is because dealing with the fallout from the pandemic has caused multiple traumas — which have been heightened by news and graphic images of racial violence and the outrage and fear that followed. 

Although teachers and schools alone cannot solve these issues, educators can alleviate their impact by improving their own social and cultural competence.    

As you begin to make the SEL instructional pivot, it’s important to understand that discussions about the effects of trauma caused by COVID-19, systemic racism and police brutality perpetrated on people of color are not new to our students or their families and communities. Educators now must join the conversation, both as allies and committed helpers. Conversations need to lead to engaging lessons and equitable classroom culture, both virtually and in person. 

While some of us teach in districts where SEL training, along with corresponding topics like restorative justice, trauma-informed teaching and culturally responsive teaching is readily available, many of us will need to learn to integrate these critical concepts and skills into daily lessons on our own. Here are some critical steps to take as you integrate SEL into online learning for students.

Step 1: Become an equity leader by embedding SEL

Both the ISTE Computational Thinking Competencies and ISTE Standards emphasize the importance of being an equity leader — and with good reason! Good teachers know that equity in the classroom is only achieved when all students receive what they need to succeed academically and socially.

Being an equity leader requires that teachers know the systemic conditions that led to the disadvantages and associated traumas facing our most disadvantaged students. 

I have had to accept that I can do more harm than good if I don’t have the right language and background about what plagues my students emotionally and socially. There is much learning for me to do, which is why I recommend adding How to Be An Antiracist and Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain to your reading list.

You can also include some of the following resources to inform your SEL integration teaching plan: 

SEL in Action jump start guide

Step 2: Level up your own social and cultural competence 

SEL competencies are a guide to show educators how they can help learners understand themselves and others to develop the skills to become better students and people. But before we can engage them in SEL, we must know and understand them culturally and socially. Otherwise, helping them learn and apply new life and social skills will likely not occur.

Once you’ve reviewed the resources above, it’s time to start creating your own SEL plan that includes research-based pedagogies for helping make you more culturally and socially competent. To keep this manageable, I recommend using a simple graphic organizer to help categorize and list some best practices (along with their purposes) you want to include in future lessons. This can serve as a quick reference and guide for both your own future professional development and lesson planning.

For example, I teach a diverse group of students, and some belong to cultures other than my own. To make my lessons more engaging and relevant to them, I need to learn how to become more culturally responsive in my teaching by making meaningful connections between the content I teach and their cultures, languages and personal experiences. This will include learning to design lessons that accurately represent them and their interests by leveling up my knowledge base and teaching practice for effective, culturally responsive teaching (CRT). 

After learning what CRT actually is by diving into reputable resources, I began developing my own plan for how I can start to be more culturally responsive in my remote teaching. Please see the graphic below. 


ISTELive 21 Team Virtual Journey.

Step 3: Help students improve their emotional intelligence 

Research shows that SEL can yield terrific behavioral and academic outcomes for kids when integrated with classroom content. The self-awareness competency in CASEL's integrated framework is an excellent resource for helping students begin to understand their emotional responses and thereby strengthen their emotional intelligence (EQ) skills. And for this purpose, our daily lessons can be instrumental as they navigate their EQ journey. 

The work of psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman tells us that EQ has five important elements — self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Labeling emotions is an essential first step required for students to become self-aware and to begin to manage their emotional states effectively as they work to develop EQ. 

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is an excellent tool for simplifying emotions for students by focusing them on eight basic ones (anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust). The wheel also enables them to categorize emotions into primary ones and recognize that the emotions they experience can be a combination of the eight basic emotions or stem from one or more of them. This is very empowering for young people. 

Now that learners have a better understanding of how they respond emotionally, we can have them begin to label their emotions and identify and implement SEL strategies to put themselves back in a peaceful state. For this, I like to incorporate emotion check-ins using an “emotions planner” in both my remote or in-person lessons. 

This simple check-in can be in response to a new concept we are covering or products they are actively working on. The students and I then identify SEL strategies to regulate any of their emotions effectively.

See below for examples for each of the content areas.

The emotions planner can be used to cover emotionally stirring current events and happenings in my classroom. See below. 

This is where the emotion check-ins can live in the context of a weekly or daily lesson plan. 

(This is an adaptation of the Student Learning Guide by PBLWorks.)

Commit to being better

Undoubtedly, the pandemic and racial demonstrations around the world have forever changed how we think, live and teach students. I believe taking steps to help improve their lives through our teaching makes us an asset they can begin to count on — especially when many haven’t felt supported previously. As we work to fill our knowledge gaps about what plagues our students and plan relevant lessons that integrate SEL, we must bear in mind that although all of this requires consistency, reflection and patience, it is necessary to prepare ourselves appropriately for students. Read Inclusive Learning 365

Jorge Valenzuela is an education coach, author and advocate. He has years of experience as a classroom and online teacher, a curriculum specialist and as a consultant. His work focuses on improving teacher preparation in project-based learning, computational thinking and computer science integration, STEM education, and equity-based restorative practices. Jorge is an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. His book Rev Up Robotics: Real-World Computational Thinking in the K–8 Classroom is available from ISTE.

My sincerest gratitude to Dr. William Wright, Dr. Shamica Long-Lane,Tammi Ward, Dee Biggers and Katrina Futrell for helping to inspire and implement this work with amazing teachers at Hertford County Public Schools.

This is an updated version of a post that originally published on July 8, 2020.