I Do, We Do, You Do

“Mama! Remember… You cannot say stupid”. My 4-year old daughter does not let me forget that she is watching and learning from the way I behave, what I say and how I relate to others. As a parent, I need to be able to model the behaviors and skills that I expect her to develop and practice on a regular basis. As you have probably experienced at some point, children and youth are watching adult behavior all the time, and they often feel puzzled when we ask them to do things they don’t see adults doing. Intentionally or not, adults model social and emotional skills for children and youth.

This is especially relevant for educators. As I explain in further detail in the Edutopia article Developing Teachers’ Social and Emotional Skills, teachers navigate stressful situations every day – and students are paying attention. They learn from how their teachers manage frustration, deal with conflicts, or maintain control in the classroom. Although as human beings we are not perfect and we often make mistake, being aware of the impact our behavior has on our students can help us make different choices if necessary. Think about your classroom. When and how do you model positive social and emotional skills?

Let’s say that you want to develop your students’ self-management skills, so they can regulate their emotions and respond (instead of react) to difficult situations in and out of the classroom. You would need to model the skills by anticipating your reactions to students’ behavior, pausing to consider your choices before taking action or acknowledging mistakes when your behavior choices were not that great. In Gandhi’s words: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”!

Although modeling is very important to teach SEL in schools, it is not enough to develop students’ social and emotional skills. You will need to set aside some time to teach these skills explicitly. An effective teaching strategy to explicitly teach SEL skills is “I Do, We Do, You Do”. It incorporates the 3 key components of skill development: modeling, guided practice and independent application. Following the example of teaching students self-management skills, here’s how you could use the strategy in the classroom.

I Do – This phase involves teaching strategies such as informing, explaining, modeling and providing examples. You could:

  • Introduce and explain effective tools to regulate emotions. For example, taking a few deep breaths, moving your body or moving away from the difficult situation. You could also have students brainstorm ideas.
  • Model how to use the tools. You would do a few breathing exercises with your students or model how to move away from a difficult situation in a constructive way.
  • Provide examples from your personal or professional life and how you regulated your emotions (successfully or not).

We Do – This second phase involves practicing the skills and tools with your students. It is important to create a space where students feel comfortable and safe practicing the tools; if they don’t feel at ease, it is better to spend more time creating the right atmosphere in the classroom than plowing ahead with the guided practice. Since for some students this might be the first time they are practicing these tools, continue to model for them and provide feedback as necessary. Help students make sense of these tools. You could:

  • Role-play difficult situations, have students choose which tool seems more appropriate and discuss outcomes.
  • Discuss scenes with strong emotions from books or movies. Did the characters use any tools to regulate their emotions? Did it work?
  • Have students lead the guided practice. For example, students could lead breathing exercises.

You Do – This phase involves the student practicing the tools independently. At the beginning of teaching self-management tools, students might need reminders to breath or take a break when they are in the midst of a difficult situation. Over time and with on-going practice, students will be able to use these tools independently both inside and outside the classroom. During this phase, it is important that you provide feedback and monitor when/how students are using these tools. You could:

  • Observe how students handle classroom conflict. Do they use any of the self-regulation tools you taught them?
  • Analyze your classroom behavior data. Do you notice any differences and/or patterns? How can this data inform your future SEL lessons?
  • Check-in with other teachers and school staff that work with your students. Do they observe them using these tools successfully?

As with teaching academic content, if after independent practice, students are not applying the tools, you would go back to the “We Do” phase and provide additional guided practice. This additional check-in with students can also provide an opportunity to celebrate successes and discuss the challenges students encounter when using these tools.


You can bring SEL to your classroom by consistently modeling the behaviors you expect to see in your students and by teaching these skills explicitly to your students. The strategy “I Do, We Do, You Do” is a great way to organize your SEL lessons, so your students can learn from you, have opportunities to practice together in a safe place and apply the skills independently with your feedback. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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