Preparing Teachers to Support SEL

Implementing SEL programs and practices requires teachers to be open, self-reflective and sometimes vulnerable with their students. This may be easy for some teachers, while quite difficult for others. I remember a teacher saying during a training: “Students should learn these skills at home or in elementary school. I already have a hard time covering all my content, I cannot waste any time with check-ins and community circles.” You may have said something similar yourself, or heard colleagues have these conversations. It is part of the process.

Managing resistance (in yourself, your colleagues or administrators) may be step one in this process. It is completely normal. Change requires that we find the courage to ask difficult questions and push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. A school that engages in this conversation, and is able to acknowledge the feelings that block change, such as frustration, fear or judgement, it is starting the process for SEL implementation. If you are currently dealing with resistance at your school, make sure you also read this blog post, where I discuss resistance in more detail.

Far too often, teachers are left alone to figure out how and when they are going to teach these social and emotional skills to students. They are told what to do, but they are not engaged in the decision-making process. Who wouldn’t feel frustrated and resistant in a situation like that? For teachers to engage in any change process, and especially one that involves teaching and learning about emotions, they need to feel heard and supported. In my experience working with schools, little time is spent in creating a shared vision and commitment to this work, which is why many of these initiatives become short-lived: they fail to engage people at an emotional level.

I recently published a case study with the Learning Policy Institute, looking at how teachers can be supported to develop their own social and emotional skills in preservice and in-service training, so they can engage students in developing these same skills. Check out the full report here, and a handy infographic here.

These are the implications of what we learned for SEL implementation in schools:

  • Integrate SEL into the fabric of the school. All adults, from leadership to support staff, need to understand the importance of SEL and know how to support it. SEL is seen not as something that is done through discrete lessons, but rather as something that contributes to students’ development.
  • Start with the social and emotional learning of the adults. When teachers and principals are aware of their own emotions and how these emotions impact the classroom and school environment, they are more likely to support students in understanding their own feelings.
  • Create explicit opportunities to generate buy-in and engage teachers in making decisions about SEL implementation. Educators are a key component of any SEL initiative; without their buy-in and commitment, resources allocated for SEL implementation could go to waste. By creating opportunities for teachers to learn about SEL through trainings, observing colleagues at their school or district, or attending conferences, educators can be active participants in making decisions about how SEL is implemented at their school.
  • Create professional development on SEL that is explicit, sustained, and job-embedded. Teachers, counselors, coaches, and other professionals working in schools benefit from training on how to teach social and emotional competencies and how to infuse SEL in teaching practices. As with all good professional development, follow-up and coaching are important components of educator learning, which ideally is differentiated based on the educator’s experience and prior exposure to SEL and the needs of the student population being served.
  • Provide ongoing support to educators using SEL assessments for instructional purposes. SEL assessments can provide meaningful data about students’ social and emotional skills that teachers can use to inform classroom instruction. Educators need sufficient time and training to understand the measurement tool and how it relates to the school’s SEL implementation framework before being asked to use and respond to data.

As you are planning your summer PD or school retreat, consider how important it is to authentically engage teachers in your SEL efforts. And if you need support, send me a note. I love hearing from you.

I’ll be taking a break from writing in July. Be back in August with more tools and strategies to integrate SEL in your teaching practices, and more snippets from my forthcoming SEL book Teaching with the HEART in Mind. Sign up for updates to stay tuned!



Melnick, H., & Martinez, L. (2019). Preparing teachers to support social and emotional learning: A case study of San Jose State University and Lakewood Elementary School. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

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