Social Emotional Learning and Why It Matters for Educators

As educators, we don’t (and shouldn’t) leave our emotions at the door when we’re working with young people. Attending to our own social and emotional needs is critically important, especially if we’re tasked with teaching SEL to our students. Try these strategies that support both educator and student social emotional learning in the classroom.

We know this. We know that our very human emotions accompany our very human selves when we arrive at school. And yet as we go through our day, our emotional needs may take a backseat to attending to the needs of our students.

What Is Social Emotional Learning?

Social emotional learning is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions,” according to CASEL. SEL usually involves instruction from an adult who utilizes a curriculum to help students build skills in recognizing emotions and navigating social interactions with care and compassion.

What Is Social Emotional Learning for Educators?

As adults, we also need strategies to use during the school day to navigate challenging classroom moments, support our well-being, and nurture our own social emotional competencies.


How to Build a Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Every classroom is impacted by the effects of trauma. Join this 90-minute workshop to examine a nervous system framework and discover strategies to create welcoming and safe learning spaces.

Try These Strategies During Your School Day

Image Credit: CASEL. Used with permission.

SEL Skills and Competencies:

Mindfulness is a powerful foundation for and complement to developing SEL skills. Taking a mindful pause, for example, is a simple way you can resource yourself and tend to your own emotional needs during the school day. It can help with two of the core SEL competencies taught to students: 

  1. Self-Awareness – the ability to recognize thoughts and feelings in the moment and
  2. Self-Management – the ability to navigate and respond to those thoughts and feelings in an appropriate way.


Take just a few seconds to pause, and try one, or a few, of the following exercises:

  • Feel your feet on the floor or where your body makes contact with your chair
  • Take three deep breaths, or simply bring your attention to how you are breathing
  • Stretch your arms above your head, roll your shoulders, or move in a way that feels nourishing for your body

Then, take a moment to notice how you feel. What sensations, thoughts, or emotions are present?

What you might notice:

Once you become familiar with integrating a mindful pause during your day, you may notice how it supports your own self-awareness and self-management.

  • You may notice a story you’re telling yourself about a student. Once you’ve brought it to awareness, you may realize that story may not actually be true.
  • You may notice you’re feeling especially activated by yet another classroom interruption, and that noticing how you’re feeling has already interrupted your immediate (and understandable) impulse to react in frustration or raise your voice.

Bring Mindfulness to Your Classroom

Course Begins:

In 201: Mindfulness in the Classroom, learn trauma-sensitive strategies to nurture social and emotional well-being in your classroom. Access the Mindful Schools K-12 Curriculum and Teaching Kit. Educators earn credits.


You might try a mindful pause:

  • Just before stepping into your classroom
  • While waiting at the copier
  • During your 5 seconds of “wait time” after asking students a question
  • When something happens in your classroom that triggers your frustration

Practicing these strategies during both quiet and challenging moments can be supportive in expanding your self-awareness and self-management.

We can’t say it enough: Educators, attending to your own social and emotional needs is critically important for self-care. This embodiment of SEL skills also enhances your teaching of SEL to students––students observe adults in their lives as a model to recognize emotions and navigate interactions with care and compassion.

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