George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Five Simple Techniques to Incorporate Social and Emotional Learning

Mary Kate Land

Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Note: Mary Kate Land teaches Montessori grades 4-6, and is the new facilitator for our Social and Emotional Learning group. She's got some excellent ideas and years of experience working with SEL. We hope you'll join us for some practical, supportive and inspirational discussions.

When I first began working in the field of Social/Emotional Learning more than twenty years ago, the term SEL had not yet been invented, and that made it somewhat challenging to talk with teachers and parents about promoting these skills. Since that time, the educational landscape has evolved to the point that most educators realize how important the psychological aspects of the learning environment can be for individual student progress as well as group cohesiveness. Though we'd like to jump up and cheer, this may actually be a more perilous situation for our field than the total obscurity we've thus far endured.

Avoiding the Soup du Jour Effect

We are at risk of becoming the Soup du Jour of educational concepts. If this is our "fifteen minutes" we need to be prepared to use it in such a way that SEL becomes an expected curriculum feature and not a trendy, but momentary focus which is forgotten as the reform effort moves forward. Perhaps the best way to do this is to help teachers acquire practices which promote Social/Emotional Learning as well as streamline classroom routines. Here are some commonly used SEL techniques which have the potential to become self-perpetuating due to their usefulness for teachers and the interest they invoke from students.

Technique 1: Implement Regular Class Meetings

Regular class meetings which allow students and their teachers to meet face-to-face to discuss challenges promote responsibility and thoughtfulness in students. Meetings can be developmentally appropriate for children as young as 3 or 4 if they are kept short and students have an active part. Often class meetings at the youngest ages involve students demonstrating or practicing certain social skills (greeting, apologies, requests, etc.). As children grow, they take a more active part in running meetings. Older students select meeting topics and help establish meeting routines. Once students reach upper elementary school, they can begin to coordinate meetings independently. Middle and high school students sometimes even formalize their meetings, using Roberts Rules of Order to guide the process.

Technique 2: Use Conflict Resolution to Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Having a protocol that students can use to guide discussions about interpersonal conflict helps students handle disagreements in positive ways. Conflict is an inevitable part of human interaction. Teachers often worry that time spent handling interpersonal conflict will rob the students of time on task. The goal is frequently to stop conflict situations as quickly as possible and get back to the real business at hand. Learning a conflict resolution strategy brings interpersonal conflict into the realm of "intentional curriculum" and legitimizes the time we spend learning these skills. When developing problem-solving techniques is seen as a vital aspect of healthy progress, our interpersonal challenges cease to be distractions and take on the color of opportunities for meaningful learning. We will be talking more about specific conflict resolution strategies in Edutopia's Social and Emotional Learning group.

Technique 3: Use Emotional Sandwiching

Students who see their classroom as a refuge come to school with light steps, anticipating their interactions with classmates and teachers. We can help promote this type of warmth by starting and ending every school day with a personal connection. This doesn't have to be an elaborate or time-consuming ritual. It can be as simple as providing a warm greeting to welcome each person as they arrive in the morning, and then closing with a short reflective circle before dismissal. Some classrooms like to appoint a student as the official greeter. Students enjoy suggesting topics for the closing group, and this can be a great time to focus attention on enriching events the class is planning for the near future. The main idea of this exercise is to help students to be mindful of the importance of their work, and the implications it has for all of their lives.

Technique 4: Build Emotional Capital in Ourselves

Perhaps the most important thing a teacher can do to promote healthy SEL development is to prepare him- or herself. When we are emotionally balanced and feeling appreciated and valued, we are better able to be present for our students and support their growth. Stress relief techniques and positive collegial relationships help us to feel calm and confident. We build emotional capital for ourselves by caring for our own needs.

Technique 5: Build Emotional Capital in Our Kids

We can also build capital for children through our interactions with them. Each time we have the opportunity to communicate with a child, we can use that interaction to support the child. Supportive messages (such as noting positive behaviors and making encouraging suggestions) communicate that students are on the right track and lead to greater student confidence. These types of interactions help students to trust their teachers, bringing us closer together. When conflicts arise, the strength of this relationship will often determine the level at which students will engage in honest dialog. If we can think of our interactions as a banking system, we want to be sure we are making plenty of deposits (emotionally supportive communications) in relation to the number of withdrawals (requests for self-control and cooperation) we require. Students whose accounts have been overdrawn by life may need many deposits before a single withdrawal can be expected.

Many of these ideas are widely practiced by educators, even without the awareness that they promote SEL. A wealth of classroom-tested ideas exist which teachers all over the country could include in their work if they were aware of the ease and importance of teaching these concepts. The way in which we rise to the challenge of disseminating this information could determine whether SEL fades into the background, or moves to the forefront of this wave of reform, becoming an essential aspect of curriculum at every level. If teachers perceive that these ideas are growing because they work to make classrooms function more smoothly and meet the needs of students more thoroughly, they will adopt SEL friendly practices.

This is a critical moment in time for SEL practitioners. Please join me on the Social and Emotional Learning group to explore specific ways in which to promote these important ideas. We are currently creating a wiki to archive the information shared in this group so that new participants have background on the programs and practices that have been helpful to other users. Let us take on the challenge of sharing the specific techniques we use for class meetings, conflict resolution, and promoting emotional balance for teachers and students.

Was this useful? (1)

Mary Kate Land

Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Karla Valenti's picture
Karla Valenti
Empowering parents to empower their children (

These tips are great, they highlight the importance of applying interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences in teaching.

I do want to point out that these tips need not be limited to the educational arena but are equally valuable in parenting. I am continuously drawing on SEL techniques in negotiating with my children ( :)

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Hi Karla,

You make a very good point. As a matter of fact, I draw on my "problem-solving" resources as often with other adults as with children!

Dr. Myrna Shure has a wonderful treatment of basic SEL skills for parents. "Raising a Thinking Child" and "Raising a Thinking Pre-Teen" are both widely available in public libaries and adapt her classroom curriculum specifically for parents. She has also produced a parent workbook which many schools use in their parenting classes. It allows parents to do a self-study of the curriculum materials and basically teach themselves what they would get in a training.

Dr. Shure's foundational work in the field of SEL produced some of the earliest findings about the links between SEL and academic performance. Not surprisingly, her longitudinal research showed that students who use problem-solving techniques both at home and at school are likely to see the greatest benefits from SEL training.

It was parenting that got me into the SEL field. I was lucky to have a little SEL lab when my identical twins were born. Observing their interactions helped me to appreciate how easy it is for simple things to lead to conflict.

We always have a choice when conflict arises. We can use it as a learning opportunity, or treat it like an intrusion which has to be stopped. As parents, and as teachers, we make that choice several times a day. Sometimes we make it several times an hour!


Sarah's picture
Special Education Teacher

Great post! I really liked Topic #3. I really agree with you when using emotional sandwiching. We have class roles in my classroom and I find student's really take pride in their role. It is a time in the day when they feel important and everyone values what they are doing.
Additionally, my school participates in PBS and we have a school wide "cash system." Students are rewarded for positive behavior and this really does fuel their "banking system". When we are constantly depositing money into our students it makes them feel great but also I see an improvement in their quality of work and attention.

I really appreciate your post and I agree completely. Thanks.


James Mac Shane's picture

I have found and used Dr. Wm Glasser's, "Quality Schools", understanding of the basic spititual/psychological survival needs of power, love, fun, and freedom that provides a more focused interactive classroom social experience.

In my experience all children starting at the age of 4 1/2 have natural unconscious personal insights in each of these social skills. I have most often started with fun as a whole class mutual understanding goal. I write the word Fun on the white or black board with lines to a + and -. The dicussion first goes into the difference between positve and negative fun. The students have aways started with negative fun in their beginning input. It is about disrespect. When positive fun is the pocuse learning always comes up early in the conversations. Then I ask what is the opposite of fun? This they also know. It is borring which to them means if you are not learning anything or you would rather be doing something else.

It is the truth and honesty that is always available that works. The base for love is your personal self-respect. You cannot respect someone else more than your respect yourself.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Hi James,

Thank you for posting about Wm. Glasser's Choice Theory. Is this a program which is active in your school, or is it something you do in your own classroom?


James Mac Shane's picture

Unfortunatly I was the only one that used Dr. Glasser's insights. You and I have another connection. I took the Montessori training course as part of my MS in Art Ed a IIT in '64-'67 . Montessori believed that the Arts were important but she was never able to research the natural value. My MS thesis was; Developing Visual Perception in Children 3 to 11. I was not able to take Montessori Practical Training but as an elementary Art teacher I was able to be respectful of each child's natural ability in ways that would have been more difficult as a regu lar classroom teacher. I am in my fifth re-write of a book on what my student's taught me in 50 years of teaching. A significant aspect is the natural human communication/problem solving sequince of the baby sign language to oral language to all of the Arts to writing that leads to reading.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Thank you for posting, James.

Would you be willing to go into greater depth on the topic of the language expression continuum you mentioned?


Luria Learning's picture
Luria Learning
3rd Grade Teacher and Founder of Luria Learning

Thank you for the reminder about emotional sandwiching. This year I greet every student at the door before school starts. I take that time to connect with each student, give them a smile, and start the day on a positive note. We end the day with a compliment circle. This has become such a nice way of ending each day.



Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.