Is there Adequate Teacher Preparation for SEL?

I am sure that most of you agree on the importance of teaching children of all ages the concepts of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making otherwise known as SEL or social and emotional learning.  And yes, I am confident that you also understand the importance for using evidence and research based programs and practices to teach these concepts. Research has shown us that the outcomes for children are much more positive if there is a systematic and schoolwide effort to cohesively address these areas that are sometimes called “soft skills”. Skills that will benefit children for their entire lives and help them as they grow into adults and help them become productive engaged members of our communities.

My question most recently though has been, how well are teachers prepared to teach and implement these SEL concepts since there has been such a focus on using SEL concepts in the classroom? While researching this idea, I came a new report that was recently shared by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) www.casel.org that reveals that although some educators say that SEL is an “add on” or an “extra thing to do” it really isn’t. For good teaching, SEL is essential!

Here are some highlights from the summary that I found interesting:

  • Good teachers are caring and communicate their caring to their students.
  • Good teachers know that learning is a social process.
  • Good teachers know that learning includes the connection and interaction and not just information.
  • Good teachers know the strengths and challenges of all of their students and nurture them to reach their highest potential.

The report reveals that the above aspects of “good teachers” are not necessarily taught in teacher preparation courses colleges and universities. They are typically left to the individual teacher to learn or develop on their own through the guidance of other teachers and school administrators. Yet more and more teachers are asked to support the SEL growth of their students without perhaps having adequate training around their own SEL development or professional development in implementing effective SEL practices in their classrooms.

There are lots of implications to think about in the area of teacher SEL preparation and I would encourage you to read the summary of the report or even the full report. Click here to learn more about the findings from the report.


SEL: Essential Skills for Teachers

Why is SEL essential for teachers and students? 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making are essential for teachers to learn and practice. These skills help teachers handle more challenging students, improve student learning, and interact positively with others in the school environment.  SEL competencies allows teachers to manage their own stress and support caring relationships with others.   Warm and safe classroom environments along with strong classroom management skills can lessen student behavior problems, reduce emotional distress for the teacher, grow student connectedness to school, and increase student’s capacity to learn which can boost academic outcomes.

SEL helps create a positive school culture through the development of empathy, compassion, and gratitude.  Having teachers who know how to build strong supportive relationships with students, colleagues, and parents, deal effectively with conflict, set firm but respectful boundaries, and regularly demonstrate kind, helpful behavior to those around them.

A teacher with solid SEL skills are more likely to sustain their passion for teaching.  Their classrooms practice respectful communication and problem solving; transitions from activity to activity go smoothly, lessons are designed to encourage student engagement and love of learning which promote academic achievement.  A teacher with SEL skills recognizes their students’ emotions, have insight into what is causing them, respond with compassionate understanding, and re-direct the students’ behavior appropriately.

A vital component of teaching SEL skills to children is modeling them in everyday situations.  By cultivating their own self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making, teachers will be better equipped to model and teach their students.

How can I use SEL in the classroom? 

SEL class meetings that incorporate deep breathing techniques, greetings, sharing, and team building activities only take about 20 minutes of time on a regular basis and it is time well spent! SEL class meetings sessions are a flexible structure that create a more respectful environment in classrooms and students are open to being supportive of each other plus they add a positive vibe to the classroom!

Training for SEL class meeting sessions provides a brief introduction to SEL, how to incorporate SEL into daily interactions with others and familiarizes teachers with a structure for building community in their classroom using the five SEL competencies.

This graphic shows how SEL can be incorporated into an educational system not just a classroom.  It is important to think through all of these aspects of SEL as you are building a structure to support it within a school system.


Contact me if you are interested in finding out more about SEL Class Meeting Session Training or how to build a SEL support system in your classroom, school, or district!

SEL kids
SEL as a foundation of the classroom

Think back to your favorite teacher and what do you remember about them? For me, it was my fifth grade teacher, Mr. McConnelly at Lafayette Elementary School, in Lancaster, PA. He encouraged me, gave me confidence in my abilities, allowed me to try things outside my comfort zone, and provided me with a safe and nurturing learning environment that taught me how to interact with others, understand myself, and be accepting of others who were different than me. He could have just done his job and taught me math, reading, science and all the other academic stuff but he took time to build a relationship with me…that is what mattered most to me! I had many different teachers throughout my schools years who provided similar environments and that is why I feel so strongly today that if you provide a safe, caring and nurturing educational environment weaving social and emotional skills throughout the school day, we will see more success in academic areas. He didn’t use a set curriculum that I remember, but naturally encouraged the SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.

Today when I am training teachers to incorporate social and emotional learning into their classrooms, I often hear them say “How can I have influence on them, I am only with them several hours in the day and when they go home everything I do is undone!” or “My students behavior is awful and I don’t have time to add anything else in my day because I can’t get my academic lessons in!” As someone who feels that SEL has had a large impact on her life, I can tell you it is important and well, I will share with a few reasons from research why it is vital to include social and emotional learning into classrooms and how it will help student behavior so you can get to the things you need to teach. This research is from randomized clinical trials of the PATHS® curriculum which is the most evidence-based classroom SEL program in the world.

Reduce Aggressive Behavior (both regular and special needs students)

  • Teachers’ reports of students aggressive behavior decreases by 32% and sustain across two grade levels
  • Improves students’ ability to tolerate frustration
  • Peers rate boys in PATHS® curriculum classrooms as less aggressive and disruptive in Grades 1 through 3

Improve Self-Regulation

  • Teachers’ report of students increase their self-control by 36%
  • Teachers’ report lower rates of hyperactivity and inattention
  • Teachers’ report significant and sustained improvements in behavior in the classroom over two years

Improve Academic Engagement and Executive Functions

  • Increase students’ scores on cognitive skills tests by 20%
  • Significantly increases students Inhibitory Control (Stroop Test)
  • Significantly increase teachers’ reports of improved  academic engagement

Build Social and Emotional Skills

  • Increase students’ vocabulary for emotions by 68%
  • Improves plus their ability to use effective conflict-resolution strategies
  • Decreases the % of aggressive/violent solutions to social problems
  • Reduce depression and sadness among students at risk

These results show that by teaching social emotional competencies to children, you are giving them the skills to build relationships with you as the teacher, and the other students in your classroom. That’s a win, win for everyone!






Why is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Essential for Employability?
  • What are Employability Skills?

Defined by the U.S. Department of Education on their website, “employability skills are general skills that are necessary for success in the labor market at all employment levels and in all sectors.” (retrieved from ctc.ed.gov Feb 2017)


  • What is SEL?

Five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Teaching these competencies to youth helps their ability to integrate to help them deal effectively with many of life’s challenges by encouraging the integration of skills, attitudes, and behavior. These competencies give youth lifelong skills that can help them be successful adults in the workplace.

  • How are Employability and SEL connected?

SEL competencies are interwoven into all three areas of focus for employability skills:

  • Applied Knowledge-problem solving, analytical and reasoning skills, and making sound decisions
  • Effective Relationships-respects differences, takes responsibility, has self-discipline, flexible, positive attitude and sense of self-worth, and can negotiate conflict
  • Workplace Skills-actively listens, communicates effectively


Business News Daily article published in August 2016 shared the 10 most in demand soft skills. The term soft skills is often synonymous with SEL competencies. (Retrieved February 2017)

Good communicator Well Organized
Team player Always punctual
Critical thinker Social
Creative thinker Interpersonal communicator
Easily adapts Friendly personality


Content knowledge and expertise is needed in the workplace, but there are many other skills that will help determine a person’s effectiveness and chances for success.


  • SEL also provides return on investment!

The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning report produced in 2015 revealed that on average, for every dollar invested in SEL programming yields $11 in long-term benefits. These benefits include reduced juvenile crime, higher lifetime earnings, and better mental and physical health.

Why Invest in Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Early Childhood?


  • SEL can change a child’s trajectory for life!

national study comparing the evidence-based SEL PATHS® program and other, similar programs showing positive effects in preschool has shown how SEL instruction can change a child’s life. Researchers based the study on findings that showing that kids who act up a lot in school and at home — even very young kids — are more likely to have mental health problems and commit crimes years later as adults. In 1991, 5-year-olds at schools around the country were screened for behavior problems. Researchers identified 900 children who seemed to be most at risk for developing problems later on. Half of these kids went through school as usual — though they had access to free counseling or tutoring. The rest got PATHS® lessons, as well as counseling and tutoring, and their parents received training as well — all the way up until the students graduated from high school. By age 25, those who were enrolled in the special program not only had done better in school, but they also had lower rates of arrests and fewer mental health and substance abuse issues. The results of this decades-long study were published in September 2014 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. (Excerpted from December 31, 2014 NPR story)


  • SEL addresses numerous risk and protective factors for disadvantaged children and helps to level the playing field!
    Studies results published online in the Journal of Primary Prevention in October 2016, show that there are positive outcomes in the areas of social awareness, emotional awareness and regulation, relationships, and cognition. Children who received PATH®S exhibited significantly greater improvements than control students across all teacher-rated behavioral measures of social competence (i.e., emotion regulation, prosocial behavior, peer relations) and behavioral problems (i.e., aggression, internalizing behaviors, impulsivity and hyperactivity) at post-test as well as improvements in motor inhibition.


Risk Factors Addressed Protective Factors Addressed
·       Antisocial/aggressive behavior/physical violence ·       Academic self-efficacy
·       Bullies others ·       Clear standards for behavior
·       Early initiation of drug use ·       Coping skills
·       Hyperactivity ·       Problem solving skills
·       Stress ·       Prosocial behavior and involvement
·       Poor academic performance ·       Refusal skills
·       Low school commitment and attachment ·       Skills for social interaction
·       Instructional practice
·       Opportunities for prosocial involvement in education


  • Increases the chances of academic achievement!

According to a meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs. (www.casel.org Feb 2017)


  • Provides a return on investment to the community!

A calculation from the Washington Institute on Public Policy (WISPP) illustrates the positive impact of decreased antisocial behavior and delinquency and criminal behavior by implementing the PATHS® program. From its most recent update in December 2016, the benefit-cost summary shows that for every $1 spent to implement the PATHS® program and return to the community equals $21.24 in lower costs. It pays to invest in prevention!