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Posts from the ‘Teacher Development’ Category

Doing the Work that Matters

Working with educators is probably the favorite part of my job. They are committed, passionate and courageous. They want to get better at teaching, because they care about their students’ wellbeing and success. They are a force for good.

Last week, I was fortunate to spend 2 days with a fantastic group of new teachers. They reminded me that supporting the social and emotional growth of adults, children and youth is doing the work that matters. It touches human hearts with long-lasting effects. It is time well spent.

As you start the new school year, you probably have a long list of things to prepare and get done during the first few weeks. If you are feeling excited and overwhelmed at the same time, I would encourage you to look at your list and consider:

What’s the work that matters?

Then, prioritize based on these insights. Let yourself be driven by the work that is most important for yourself as an educator, and for your students. Does it change your priorities? Give yourself permission to redo your list based on this question!

In my forthcoming book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I explore one of the most important lessons that I have learned growing my own social and emotional skills-there is nothing wrong with having emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant. We tend to judge ourselves for experiencing embarrassment, fear, anxiety… as if it were bad to feel these emotions. A big part of teaching SEL is helping children, youth and adults to approach emotions without judgement. Here’s a snippet about this. Let me know how you may incorporate this with yourself and your students during the first few weeks of the school year. I love hearing from you!

Honoring emotions is an important skill to increase self-awareness and develop a stronger sense of confidence, and it is a building block for the rest of the competencies in the HEART model. Honoring your Emotions means naming, interpreting and appropriately communicating feelings.

No judgment. As previously mentioned, emotions are data; they can provide valuable information which can help us to make better decisions. At the same time, if we don’t have tools to process them, they can be confusing and make us feel out of control. Children and youth may feel the need to avoid those strong emotions that feel uncomfortable: fear, anger, embarrassment. The reality is though, there is no way to avoid our feelings. In fact, it is good and healthy for kids to feel and express these feelings. An important message in teaching students to honor their emotions is this: there is nothing wrong with having these emotions; feelings are not good or bad, they are just information.

This is something that adults often forget. Imagine a child sharing with her gymnastics coach that she is nervous about the upcoming gymnastics competition.  The coach looks at her with a smile and says: “Don’t be nervous, everything will be fine. I will be there with you.” Although the coach’s intention is comforting the child, he is invalidating the kid’s feelings. Like in the earlier example where the parent left the room when the kid was upset, this child may be learning that she shouldn’t feel nervous. A better way to respond to the child would be:

“I understand you are nervous. It is okay. If I were competing, I would probably be nervous too. Do you remember when we had the Fall Festival? You were nervous then too, right? Do you recall what you did to calm down? (Coach waits for the child to respond) Oh, you took some deep breaths. That’s a great strategy. Would you like us to do it together? I will be there with you.”

Validating the child’s experience is a key part of this process, as we want children and youth to regularly tune in to their emotions. If we judge how kids feel (“you shouldn’t feel that way”), they will be less likely to develop their emotional literacy and ability to manage their emotions. Validate first, then help them cope and process the emotion. Finally, support them to interpret and communicate.

To a productive and joyful school year! Keep me posted on your SEL progress, and get in touch if you need any additional support.

Sign up for updates about the book or follow #teachingheartinmind on Twitter. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!





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.

Creating an SEL Mindset

Two weeks ago, I visited a high school in Los Angeles (California) to gather data for a case study that I am conducting with the Learning Policy Institute. Serving around 500 mostly low-income students, the school has raised its graduation rates from 83 percent in its first year to 99 percent last year. A school that is built on teacher leadership, the educational program prioritizes a whole child approach with a relentless focus on providing students with the social, emotional and academic supports they need to ensure they are ready to lead successful and productive lives in college and beyond. Read more

Gratitude for Self

Did you know that people who experience gratitude cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function? Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, the readiness to show appreciation and return kindness to others. In the US, Thanksgiving is the holiday that celebrates gratitude and encourages us to be appreciative. Students and teachers may spend time together creating gratitude quilts, writing gratitude letters or sharing a gratitude meal (check out Stone Soup: a lesson in sharing). However, there is a lesser known form of gratitude that we often miss: gratitude for self. Read more

Whole School Approach to SEL

SEL cannot be solely focused on teaching social and emotional skills once a week. Why not?

While explicit instruction of SEL competencies is a key component, and in many cases the first step taken by schools starting to implement SEL, students (and adults too!) need plenty of opportunities to practice these skills beyond the “SEL instructional time”. SEL programs and practices are more effective when students can experience how these competencies support their personal and academic goals, and when adults (teachers, parents and administrators) are invested in modeling and practicing the skills alongside their students. Read more

Where did trust go? Strategies to earn your students’ trust

After several months into the school year, you might find that you have established positive relationships with most of your students… but maybe not all of them. Although, as educators, we care deeply about our students, there are certain relationships that may be more challenging and require a bit more work. In my experience, there is one ingredient that allows for honest communication, a sense of respect towards each other, maybe even a shared purpose. Do you know what it is? It’s trust. Trust is at the heart of any successful relationship. Read more

Preparing for Difficult Conversations

There is no education without ethics. This is the way my former Philosophy professor, Joan-Carles Mèlich, started each class. As I was getting trained to become a teacher, this was a powerful reminder of the responsibility I had as an educator with my students. I had to carefully consider how my relationship with children and youth could serve as a tool for positive change or, on the contrary, as a way to maintain the status quo. As educators, we have choices in the ways we discuss expressions of racial and religious hatred, like the recent events in Charlottesville (US), or analyze the response to NFL players kneeling during the US anthem. There is no education without ethics. Read more

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