A Focus on SEL

Author: Joy Prescott, 2019 Florida Teacher of the Year

March 27, 2019

When I began my teaching career, the focus in my classroom was centered on academics. My teaching style was very teacher directed. I believed that in order for my students to be successful I needed to ensure that they learned subject-area content such as reading, writing, and math. How students we e performing on state exams was supposed to tell the story of my students’ achievement—or at least, most of the story. 

However, after several years of concentrating on academic nourishment, I realized that they still struggled with being empathetic or caring.  They lacked the skills they needed to communicate effectively, manage their emotions, and build positive peer relationships. These were crucial social and emotional skills that I knew my students would need in order to have successful futures, but before I could start teaching these skills, I needed to know more about them.

What is SEL?

According to the Collaborative for Academics, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) these are the skills students need to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges.  There are 5 core competencies that need to be addressed.  They are:

  • Self-awareness – To process one’s own thoughts and feelings, and learn how to express them to others
  • Self-management – To control one’s own emotions and behaviors in different contexts and environments
  • Social awareness – To empathize and understand people from various backgrounds or cultures, as well as internalize social norms of behavior
  • Relationship skills – To build and maintain meaningful relationships with others by active and healthy communication
  • Responsible decision making – To make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions

SEL in my classroom

Once I had learned more about SEL, that raised the question, “How could I possibly find the time to teach the standards with rigor and develop these other essential skills in my students?”  That’s when I began my journey of learning how to weave social and emotional skills into my academic lessons. I took two crucial steps to achieve this in my classroom.

I began by changing my style of teaching.  I knew that I was going to have to abandon my traditional teaching practices because they did not allow me to provide opportunities to develop the social and emotional skills of my students. Instead, I needed to take on a more student-centered approach.  This type of teaching style would shift the focus of instruction from me to the students. 

Second, I became intentional about developing the social and emotional skills of my students. That doesn’t mean I announced, “It’s SEL time!”  Instead, I I created opportunities for student collaboration and conversation around academic content. This provided my students the crucial time needed to practice SEL skills and afforded me the opportunity to offer support to students who needed it.  

I truly believe that by combining these essential skills with academic content, I am able to create high quality learning experiences.  This will empower my students to be more effective contributors in their classrooms today and in their workplaces and communities tomorrow.  




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