3 Strategies for Embedding Social–Emotional Learning (SEL) in Your Classroom

By Community Manager posted 01-13-2022 11:36 AM


Teachers across the nation continue to feel the impact of the pandemic within their classrooms in a variety of ways. Regardless of how learning will look moving forward, educators should ensure they’re using SocialEmotional Learning (SEL) as the thread binding classroom culture and academic learning together across all disciplines and grade levels.

SEL focuses on exploring self-awareness topics that help students learn to interact with others. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL, 2020), the five areas of competence are self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social awareness, and relationship skills.

The skills associated with SEL are more critical now than ever. Teachers need practical strategies to embed these competencies into their classrooms. We encourage teachers to use cooperative structures that involve students sharing responsibility in tasks and discussions. Additionally, teachers should co-develop shared agreements with students that maintain and support classroom culture and learning. Here, we’ll explain three practical SEL strategies: Classroom Mission Statement, Collaborative Norms, and Accountability Talk.

Classroom Mission Statement

At the beginning of the school year, teachers and students should develop a classroom mission statement. The goal is to build a classroom community and allow students to share their beliefs about what constitutes a safe and inviting classroom. As a statement they create together, it is a self-reflection tool that teachers can refer to frequently.

As they develop the mission, teachers should avoid assumptions about expectations. They should value all voices and encourage students to do the same. As students work to develop the mission statement, you may provide ideas to help students clarify their thinking and allow students to role-play scenarios related to the mission. This helps to model the process for co-developing additional classroom expectations. Creating the classroom mission together allows students to develop the SEL competencies of self-awareness, social development, and relationship skills. Here’s an example of the classroom norms and values that a shared mission statement can express:

Our Mission
Our class pledges to be respectful to each other at all times, fair in our ways, to complete tasks on time, and do the best we can on all our assignments. We will encourage each other, be at the correct voice level, and be honest at all times. We will give 100% effort while staying with our group. We will strive to do our best and carry out our mission every day.
Sixth period rules!

Collaborative Norms

After you develop a mission and general classroom expectations, teachers should spend time teaching students how to work collaboratively (Prego, n.d.). Oftentimes, teachers skip this critical step because either they assume students already know how to work collaboratively, or they don’t think they have enough time to invest. However, if you invest time at the beginning of the school year teaching students how to work collaboratively, the rest of the school year will flow more smoothly and efficiently.

As you develop the group norms, teachers should refer to the classroom mission statement. Allow students to co-create these group norms by discussing characteristics of good and poor group effort. A list of positive group norms could include sharing responsibilities, staying on task, and agreeing with one another respectfully, while a discussion of poor teamwork may involve students being distracted, talking out of turn, and not sharing tasks. Throughout the year, as you assign new groups, review the group norms and allow small groups to complete brief, non-academic tasks to get to know one another. These could be with team-building tasks, such as naming their group and giving it a motto or developing a coat of arms. Establishing group norms develops the SEL skills related to responsible decision making, social awareness, and relationship skills.

Accountable Talk

Communication is key in any classroom. Teachers can implement strategies to encourage positive communication and move learning forward (The Editorial Team, 2021). Classroom conversations between teacher and students can be strengthened if the teacher has conversation starters prepared in advance. See below for some discussion starters to implement in almost any classroom.

Conversations between students can also benefit from conversation starters. Whereas conversation starters between teacher and students focus on student thinking and evidence, conversation starters between students focus on sharing ideas, revoicing, and critique. Providing structure with the conversation starters holds students accountable, gives them a place to start, and encourages all students to participate in discussions. Accountable talk allows students to develop decision making, social awareness, and relationship skills.

Classroom Conversation Starters

In conclusion, teachers should be aware of the trauma and isolation that students have experienced in their lives, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. They need to be sensitive to the SEL needs of all students. When possible, schoolwide implementation of these norms is best so that students experience the same expectations and support in all classrooms.

Classroom Norms
SEL Resource
SEL Distance Learning Resources

By Robin Magruder and Valerie Flanagan

Dr. Robin Magruder is an Associate Professor and Chair of the undergraduate program of the School of Education at Campbellsville University. She teaches elementary subject methods courses. Her research interests include teaching elementary math and science. Please communicate comments to

Dr. Valerie Flanagan is an Associate Professor and Chair of graduate programs of the School of Education at Campbellsville University. She teaches and researches in the areas of school improvement and teacher leadership. Please communicate questions or comments to


Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2020). CASEL’S SEL framework: What are the core competence areas and where are they promoted?

Prego, M. (n.d.). A how to guide for co-creating a class mission statement. TeacherVision. The Editorial Team. (2021). Doing accountable talk in the classroom.Resilient Educator.