How to Select the Right SEL Programs for Your Class

A child’s education is about so much more than academic lessons. What students learn in the classroom extends far beyond the quadratic equation or dates they memorize from their history textbooks. A student’s experience in school should prepare them for social situations, as well as real-life situations that extend beyond the classroom. Social emotional learning (SEL) can help students better understand their own feelings and emotions and help them be more empathetic towards their peers. SEL can help kids develop emotional intelligence and increase prosocial behaviors, and according to research, SEL can also improve academic performance by an average of 11 percentile points.

With so many benefits and an ever-increasing emphasis on soft skills, it’s important for teachers to incorporate an effective SEL program in the classroom. There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all approach to social emotional learning; However, it’s important to understand the criteria for a successful program to determine which may be the best fit for your classroom. Here, we’ll cover the requirements for a successful SEL program to help you choose the best approach for your students and help you understand the best way to develop your own social emotional learning competencies.

Best Social Emotional Learning Curriculum

An effective social emotional learning program promotes the development of the five SEL competencies: self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. There are several programs to choose from, but the best SEL program for your classroom depends on your students’ ages, grade level, and learning styles. It can also vary based on your teaching style. Also, unlike single subjects like math and science, SEL can be woven into the framework of everyday activities.

While you will be able to gauge whether your students respond better to dedicated SEL lessons or SEL-related activities, be sure to check any district requirements and talk to school administrators about any specific guidelines. A principal or school superintendent may be able to point you to some resources you can learn to incorporate social emotional learning curriculum in your classroom.

Best SEL Programs for Elementary School

SEL programs are designed to offer multi-year programming to help students continue to learn important soft skills as they advance in school. Your approach to SEL lessons will vary depending on which grade level you teach. For elementary school teachers, your students may respond best to SEL-related activities like reading and journaling or art projects to express their feelings. Other SEL programs for elementary schools combine academic content and classroom management practices to create an environment that promotes social, emotional, and academic skills.

Besides a dedicated program, there are also various growth strategies and activities that you can use for specific grade levels. For example, K-2 students may respond better to goal-directed behavior, while students in grades 3-5 may benefit from optimistic thinking. These at-home resources can provide more information and support SEL for students and adults.

The best option is the program that your students will respond to and that you can incorporate on a consistent, ongoing basis. Sanford Harmony from National University offers a social emotional learning program for students from Pre-K to sixth grade. This no-cost program was designed to develop communication, connection, and community both in and outside the classroom. This guide from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning also offers some fantastic suggestions for social emotional learning programs for preschool and elementary school students.

Middle School SEL Programs

As students move onto middle school, they take on a more advanced academic curriculum. Just as these students continue to evolve and develop intellectually and emotionally, middle school SEL programs should be adapted accordingly. Teachers can utilize SEL programs that are more interaction-based to help students understand how to deal with their own emotions, as well as other students’ behaviors, actions, and feelings. SEL programs for middle school should also emphasize interpersonal relationships. Based on research from CASEL, students who feel their teachers listen to them and feel accepted by their peers through social emotional learning are more motivated and perform better in school.

When choosing an SEL program, middle school teachers should look for options that offer SEL instruction in academic curriculum, as well as programs that create rules and best practices to support students’ social and emotional development. Teachers can choose to teach dedicated SEL lessons, incorporate these concepts into regular curriculum, or encourage SEL competencies through students’ social interactions. This guide includes evidence-based SEL programs for middle school.

Earn Your Master’s in Social Emotional Learning

While teachers aren’t required to have a degree in social emotional learning, continuing your own education can help you feel more confident teaching SEL and can help you develop and adapt an SEL curriculum to enhance your students’ learning experience. National University offers a Master of Arts in Social Emotional Learning to empower you with knowledge and skills in self-care, cognition, trauma, and the ability to create healthy environments and relationships both inside and outside of the classroom.

National University is San Diego’s largest nonprofit university and offers four-week class schedules to help you earn your degree on your own time. If you’re interested in pursuing a master’s degree in social emotional learning, you can choose from online or in-person classes to complete your education around your teaching schedule. Learn more about our Master of Arts in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to answer any questions about our programs.

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