Deep Dives

5 Back-to-School SEL Strategies for Educators

August 23, 2023
5 Back-to-School SEL Strategies for Educators

Back-to-school butterflies aren’t just for students. For educators, kicking off a new school year can be both exciting and stressful. These first days and weeks are critical to building a strong foundation for a successful school year.

It’s a time to create a welcoming environment, build connections with students and their families, and begin laying the groundwork for rules and expectations that help the school day run smoothly. Social and emotional learning (SEL) supports all these goals.

In this post, we’ll share five strategies that help teachers and school staff support students socially, emotionally, and academically from the start. These strategies are based on our printable SEL tips for educators, developed with the Leading with SEL coalition, which you can download here. We also put together printable SEL tips for school social workers, in collaboration with the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA).

1. Get to Know Students

Connection and relationships are at the core of SEL. Start building relationships from Day 1 by greeting students with a warm smile and a calm, caring attitude.

  • Schedule five-minute one-on-one chats with each student.
  • Ask students to fill out a “Getting to Know You” questionnaire about their strengths, interests, and concerns about school, or write “3 Ways My Teacher Can Help Me Learn.”
  • Use welcome activities that engage all students. You can use CASEL’s SEL 3 Signature Practices or these prompts for ideas–but the activity itself isn’t the point. The point is building connections from the start.
  • Incorporate partner and group activities to help students build connections with one another. 

2. Create Shared Agreements

Finding ways to include students in decision-making about their school or classroom can boost their engagement and SEL skills. Brainstorm shared agreements about what students want their classroom to look, sound, and feel like:

  • What makes a good learning environment?
  • How do students want to treat one another?
  • What do respect and kindness look like?
  • How will they handle disagreements?

After students brainstorm individually or in small groups, decide on a set of agreements that everyone commits to upholding. You can also survey students throughout the year about how the class is going.

3. Set Goals

Encourage students to practice self-management by setting goals from the start of the school year:

  • What are three things they would like to achieve this year?
  • How will they know when their goals have been met?
  • What steps do they need to take to reach their goals?
  • What are some potential obstacles, and what can they do to overcome them?

Consistently revisit these goals with written reflections or personal check-ins. What is going well, and where can they improve? What is one thing they can do next week to get closer to their goals?

4. Welcome Families Warmly at Back-to-School Night

Back-to-School Night is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate SEL and build bridges between school and home. For example:

  • Encourage families and staff to introduce themselves and their hopes for the school year.
  • Engage families in developing your school’s vision and goals for SEL, and highlight how you’ll work together to support children’s social, emotional, and academic learning.
  • Share how you’ll partner with families, including how they can inform decisions and raise questions and ideas.
  • Showcase SEL practices that students experience, rather than just telling families and caregivers about SEL.

5. Check in With Yourself and Your Colleagues

Check in regularly with yourself and other adults in your building to discuss how they are implementing SEL in your school. What’s working? What challenges are they having? How can you better support one another?

You (or others at your school) can use the SEL in the Classroom Self-Assessment to assess strengths and areas to develop when it comes to promoting SEL. For schoolwide SEL planning, use the Schoolwide SEL Program and Initiative Inventory.

What are your favorite SEL strategies for back-to-school?

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