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Schools are focusing on teaching social and emotional learning (SEL) to students. But SEL is also important for teachers. With more educators leaving the profession than ever before because of stress and burnout, SEL is one way to improve their mental wellness and resiliency. Practicing SEL skills also leads to better relationships in the classroom and with colleagues.
What is SEL for teachers?
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL helps you “develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”
It covers five main areas:
- Responsible decision-making
- Relationship skills
- Social awareness
When teachers practice these competencies during the school day, they are more likely to cope with emotions, feel confident about their abilities and have a better understanding of their learners.
Why do educators need social and emotional skills?
Jorge Valenzuela, an education coach and the author of Raising Equity through SEL, noted how important SEL is for educators.
“Teaching is the most stressful profession out there,” he said. “Needing help with emotions is one of the needs, not just of students but also teachers.”
There are several benefits of SEL for teachers. Here are six ways SEL helps educators’ mental wellness and builds stronger connections with learners and the school community.
Relieves burnout and stress
According to a 2022 survey from the National Education Association (NEA), 55 percent of educators said they are thinking about leaving their teaching career earlier than planned. When responding, burnout and stress were key issues for them. In fact, 90% said that burnout is a serious issue, and 91% said that stress from the pandemic is a serious problem.
Other significant issues included student absences, unfilled positions leading to more workload, low pay, student behavior issues, lack of respect from parents and inadequate planning time.
Stress and burnout was an issue before the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Even in the mid-2000s, 40-50% of educators left the profession in the first five years of teaching.
Of course, higher salaries, and hiring more teachers, nurses, librarians, school counselors and psychologists would alleviate some of the problems educators face. Until those changes happen, though, SEL can ease some emotional burdens teachers carry.
Practicing self-awareness and self-management, two of the CASEL competencies for SEL, helps educators identify their current emotions and take steps to better manage their stress in the moment. This could be stress that is related to student behavior, parent communications or heavy workloads.
Another SEL competency, social awareness, is when educators are able to key into the emotions their learners are facing, understand their perspective and feel empathy for them. This better equips teachers in supporting learners with challenging classroom behavior, reducing teachers’ stress. Educators can also practice social awareness when communicating with parents or colleagues who have different points of view.
Helps educators practice self-care
Educators focus on their learners throughout each school day, and many don’t bring their own needs to the forefront. According to the Canadian Teachers Association, teachers often work up to 10 to 20 hours per week beyond class time with learners.
Heavy workloads lead to exhausted educators, who also have family and personal responsibilities. When educators become exhausted, schools may see high rates of absenteeism. This in turn can create more workload for co-workers who have to cover classes for absent educators.
“85% of teachers reported that work-life imbalance is affecting their ability to teach the way they would like to teach — 35% indicated that it was having a significant impact,” the Canadian Teachers Association report stated.
Self-awareness allows educators to identify when they are feeling overwhelmed. Self-management helps take steps to strike a better professional and personal balance and take time for themselves to decompress.
Builds stronger educator-learner relationships
Another SEL skill for teachers is relationship-building. It’s important to create trust in the classroom and develop positive relationships with learners. When an educator shows students that they care and want to understand them, students are more likely to be open to learning.
The SEL competency related to responsible decision-making can also help teachers better manage their classrooms. When educators reflect on the pros and cons of decisions and potential outcomes, they’re more likely to make decisions that benefit learners. This creates a safer, more trusting environment for learners and less stress for teachers.
Leads to culturally-responsive teaching
Another way educators can engage in self-awareness is by looking at their own biases and how they affect their actions. Educators need to take time to reflect on this so they can provide equitable opportunities in their classrooms and in the school. Engaging in self-awareness requires educators to be vulnerable, but this type of social and emotional learning practice leads to growth.
It’s also important to practice social awareness and identify and honor the different backgrounds and cultures in the classroom. This leads to culturally-responsive teaching when learners’ identities are valued and instruction becomes more meaningful.
Allows educators to more effectively teach SEL to learners
Teachers also need to be aware of social-emotional development so they can lead by example or model SEL skills for learners. When teachers practice SEL skills themselves, learners have a clearer understanding of what SEL looks like in practice and why it makes an impact.
For example, educators can support social and emotional learning by talking through responsible decision-making and their own growth mindset. Or they can identify their current feeling about a class situation and how they plan to turn it into a positive result. It’s also important for learners to hear their teachers admit to mistakes and apologize if necessary. This also creates more trust and builds stronger relationships.
Creates a healthier school culture
Practicing social awareness allows educators to be open to different perspectives and have more compassion for learners, other staff members and parents. When educators begin implementing SEL practices into their professional routines, they’re also more likely to feel satisfied with their jobs. Overall, this results in a healthier school culture for every stakeholder.
Discover how a South Carolina school district supports SEL with browser monitoring
Watch the video to hear why Highlights helps educators like Kathryn combine monitoring with social and emotional learning.
How can schools train teachers in SEL?
Jorge Valenzuela said that when educators learn about SEL, they are better equipped to support their students and colleagues. “I’ve learned that we have to pay attention to the pain point of who’s in front of us. And so part of our work is being likable, being relatable, making connections that go beyond the content.”
He continued, “People want a connection, relationship. They want to know that you care. They want to know that you’re a human being.”
One of the ways you can train teachers in SEL is by sharing resources and courses with them. Allow teachers time to explore SEL resources or provide incentives for completing courses. The following training materials are designed specifically for teachers to learn about SEL and practice SEL skills.
SEL resources for teachers
- Transforming Education — SEL for Educators Toolkit
- Emotional ABCs — SEL teacher training
- Virtual Lab School — Social Emotional Learning for Teachers course
SEL training for teachers checklist
Aside from sharing SEL lessons and courses for educators, you can also embed SEL training throughout the school year. Giving teachers the time to think about their social and emotional skills shows that the school team supports them and their mental health. Here are some SEL strategies for teachers to help them practice the CASEL competencies.
✅ Self-awareness SEL activities for teachers
- Take time during meetings for teachers to privately rate their current stress level.
- Ask teachers to mentally identify their current emotion and how it affects their reactions.
- Have teachers write about a moment in class that was challenging and how it made them feel.
- In a Google Form, ask teachers to share a moment they were proud of during the week.
✅ Self-management SEL activities for teachers
- Have grade level-subject teaching teams consider ways they can incorporate more culturally-responsive instructional content.
- Ask teachers to develop monthly professional and personal goals and steps for reaching those goals.
- Provide teachers with adequate planning time for better workload balance.
✅ Responsible decision-making SEL activities for teachers
- Communicate to teachers that their unique decision-making techniques are respected.
- Ask teachers to discuss the pros and cons of different types of school-related decisions.
- Ask teaching teams to create action plans for classroom decisions and ways of communicating with parents.
✅ Relationship skills SEL activities for teachers
- Have staff members role-play ways for dealing with student issues.
- Recognize teachers who overcome challenges or meet goals.
- Routinely ask teachers about their perspectives and feelings and be open to listening.
- Include time for teaching teams to discuss challenges and accomplishments.
✅ Social awareness SEL activities for teachers
- Reflect teachers’ backgrounds and cultures across the school environment, including hallways, meeting rooms, newsletter messages and school events.
- Provide resources so teachers can reflect learners’ identities on classroom walls and in classroom libraries.
- Clearly communicate professional and mental health supports that are available to teachers.
- Have teachers write in a journal from the perspective of a learner in their classroom.
How can you support teachers’ social and emotional learning practice? When educators focus on SEL in their own professional lives, they are better equipped to handle the stresses of their job and build more positive relationships. They then develop into stronger teachers and colleagues within the school community. As a result, classrooms and school environments become more equitable, healthier and safer.