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4 Key SEL Skills for Educators

Edmentum defines social-emotional learning (SEL) as teaching, implementing, and adopting the practices of culturally informed, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral skills necessary for life success.

Life outside of the classroom impacts you and your students in the classroom. Students ask for help, share their feelings, and need to be heard. For students, educators are a sounding board, a source of trust they can turn to. Knowing all of this, what SEL skills do you have to positively impact your school community? After all, you are a highly complex individual who comes to the classroom with much more than a lesson plan.

We understand the positive short- and long-term benefits of SEL education for students, but are you integrating the same concepts you are teaching into your own life? Incorporating SEL into school helps students learn to be caring and civil, make healthy decisions, problem-solve effectively, maintain respectfulness and responsibility, and grow into empathic and ethical individuals. Let’s employ the same care with ourselves as we do our students and hold ourselves to the same high expectations we have for them.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), as the definitive authority on SEL education, developed the CASEL 5 competencies. As the new school year takes off and you are fine-tuning your classroom management and building relationships with your students, let’s focus on your own SEL integration. With CASEL’s framework in mind, here are four top SEL skills every educator should incorporate personally to improve professionally.

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a great place to start building and practicing your own SEL skills. Being self-aware means understanding your inner life—your emotions, thoughts, values, and beliefs—and recognizing how they influence your behavior. It’s how and why you see the world the way you do.  

Practicing self-awareness could look like taking some time to examine what your core beliefs and values truly are and how closely you are living them, or honestly addressing areas you would like to improve in your life. It also contains the elements of looking for your personal biases, cultural differences, or areas that may prevent you from being completely open-minded inside and outside of the classroom. Use this Personal SEL Reflection tool to assess your personal strengths. Consider how to model those strengths when interacting with others, and plan strategies to promote growth across areas of social competence.

2. Patience and understanding

Being aware of your thoughts and responses and being patient with yourself as you uncover the “why” behind your initial impulse response in the moment can lead to change. We explicitly practice patience with others, but we don’t necessarily view ourselves through the same lens with our own interactions. Digging into the deeper “why” behind our impatience can enable us to react appropriately in a way that aligns with our core beliefs.

In the classroom, explicitly embedding patience as a guiding principle could be having the awareness to take a moment to apply the appropriate lens before responding to students. For example, imagine there is a creative and energetic student who has interrupted your lesson twice already to ask about something off-topic. Usually, your response would be elevated by this point, but as you redirect the student this time, you can step back and think about how you are responding and modeling SEL for your students, and maintain patience and tolerance.

3. Compassion

It is easy to be your own worst critic. Give yourself permission to experience your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings—regardless of your judgment of them as “good” or “bad.” Reach for growth within any judgment or uncomfortable feeling. Recognize how you want to react or feel with your true, core self and how you are reacting, and investigate the space between with kindness.

Be compassionate with yourself as you navigate the waves of the school year. When we face challenges and beat ourselves up about them as a result, we can end up feeling even more stressed and isolated. A healthier response is to treat ourselves with kindness. One suggestion to incorporate is the Self-Compassion Break for Adults. This practice helps you to reflect during times of stress at school and foster more emotionally supportive relationships with students.

As an educator, being mindful of your mental health can only benefit you and your students. Some days, you may feel great. Some days, you may feel like you need extra support. It’s a fluid process, and we need to be aware of our own needs in order to support those of our students. As we empathize and demonstrate compassion for ourselves, it will become more natural to consciously utilize the same tactics in the classroom. Agreeing with your students is not important, but rather empathizing with their perceived reality is what will make all the difference.

4. Responsibility

You are in control. Developing an awareness of the “why” behind your responses and identifying your beliefs, values, and potential for bias is your responsibility. To lead with your best self, it is equally important that you understand yourself in the classroom as well as understand your students. We can only control our own responses, so knowing what is behind them and recognizing our own triggers and influences help us to develop. One resource to learn more about identifying and managing your triggers is the Managing Your Triggers Toolkit.

When you reflect on your own social and emotional competencies, you personalize SEL, gain a deeper understanding of the lifelong process for developing this practice, and achieve insight into your own strengths and areas for improvement. Once you have a deeper understanding of this, you will be able to consciously incorporate your own SEL skills into your daily practices in the classroom, and your students will benefit from your ability to model and support them.

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