How to Support Teachers with SEL Initiatives in the Classroom

Ok, so we’ve all heard about SEL. But, do you know how it is “officially” defined? Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (CASEL, 2012).

Social Emotional Learning Is a Growing Movement

SEL initiatives are becoming more widespread in K-12 education as school leaders become increasingly aware of its positive outcomes. Developing students’ abilities to appropriately navigate and respond to social and emotional experiences leads to increased academic success for children of all ages.

According to CASEL’s SEL Trends newsletter, a shift is occurring in the way districts and schools approach SEL. SEL used to be handled only by pulling students out of the classroom on a random basis, not in the classroom or in regular intervals. Student support services like guidance counselors, social workers, and school psychologists were the experts on SEL (and in many cases still are), which was only considered for at-risk students who were experiencing academic and/or behavioral issues. Today, it is widely recognized that SEL benefits all students, whether they seem to be struggling or not.

Our recent study on SEL programs in schools supports these claims by CASEL. Our research indicates that over 50% of teachers reported they were currently implementing SEL programs in their school. The report also found that teachers need help with implementing SEL in their classrooms—nearly 60% of teachers said they only feel somewhat prepared, compared with 46% of student services staff who feel very prepared. The main reason for teachers not feeling prepared to implement SEL initiatives is lack of training of professional development, followed by lack of student family support and lack of curriculum.

So, it is positive that there are tier one SEL programs being implemented to all students, while in class with the person in the school building who likely knows them the best, but based on the sentiment, this poses a challenge.

That said, this also presents an opportunity for curriculum developers, providers of academic instructional resources, EdTech tools and professional development companies to create resources for educators and schools.

Demand for SEL Resources Is Growing

With districts placing increased importance on positive attitudes and achieving goals, the outlook for providers of SEL resources is strong. Demand can be expected to grow not only for SEL curricula but also for resources that arm educators with appropriate training and the means of evaluating the effectiveness of SEL initiatives.

Providers of instructional resources may benefit from exploring partnerships with developers of SEL curricula and from developing curricula that incorporates SEL topics and goals into academic texts, examples, activities, and other instructional resources.

For example, in 2018 McGraw-Hill Education and Sesame Workshop announced a partnership that brings research-based Sesame content and expertise into PreK and elementary school classrooms across the United States. The first integrated program incorporates critical SEL skills like empathy, self-awareness, and resilience into McGraw-Hill’s Wonders literacy programs for PreK and elementary students.

In addition to structured curriculum programs, teachers are looking for other resources to help them integrate SEL into their daily instruction. Teachers are searching for solutions, those companies that have materials to help will be the ones recommended to purchasing decision makers at the school or district level. Here are a few ways companies may want to help:

  • Videos and lessons that connect SEL to literacy skills and the vernacular students use.
  • Articles and guides to help educators connect SEL skills such as empathy and conflict resolution to real-world situations. For example, choosing teams to work on a group project.
  • Weekly/monthly parent newsletters that extend learning into the home with videos and activities for families to do together.
  • Resources or lesson plans that encourage student-led discussions, problem solving interactions, teamwork, and decision making.

To learn more about the state of SEL in schools today, get your copy of MDR’s Social Emotional Learning in Schools Report, or reach out to us at