CASEL Water Cooler

Our Favorite Tools for Starting the School Year 

August 11, 2022
Claire Schu
Manager of Implementation Support
Heather Schwartz
Practice Specialist
Our Favorite Tools for Starting the School Year 

Beginnings matter. As teachers know, students walk through the doors after summer break with their own unique stressors, hopes, and expectations. This is the ideal time to roll out the community-building strategies and routines you will integrate throughout the year to help ensure students feel engaged and supported. Creating joyful classroom environments, where curiosity and collaboration are the norm, requires centering students’ social, emotional, and academic needs. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite resources for bringing SEL into the first days and weeks of the school year. 

Top Tools 

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Here’s Claire, giving a quick tour of three top tools from the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL:  

Tools in this video 

  • Teacher Small Group Discussion Guide—Draw from this guide to find activities, readings, and discussion prompts to support your professional learning community (PLC) or regular team meetings. 
  • Community-Building Circles—Includes sample scripts for facilitating a structured class discussion to build community and get to know one another. 
  • SEL in the Classroom Self-Assessment—A reflection tool to think about how you’ll teach SEL directly, integrate SEL into your instructional strategies, and promote SEL through a supportive classroom environment. 

Engaging With Students and Families 

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When you begin the year by showing students and their parents and caregivers that you truly want to know them as individuals, you are on a path toward building a relationship that will deepen learning and engagement. We rounded up some of our favorite resources below for getting to know more about your students and their families and celebrating their identities.  

  • Questionnaires for Connecting With Students and Families (Understood)—These short, printable questionnaires position students and their families as experts of their own experiences and learning needs, and will help you learn how to better support and connect with each individual.  
  • 6 Exercises to Get to Know Your Students Better—and Increase Their Engagement (Edutopia)—These exercises go beyond surface-level “icebreakers” to help you understand your students’ passions and perspectives while also bolstering students’ sense of belonging. 
  • Activities for the First Days of School (Facing History & Ourselves)—This collection of activities is focused on making space for students to reflect on their identities and share about themselves, and to work together to develop a vision for the kind of learning community they want to create this year. 

Culture-building and connection are for the beginning of the year and beyond. You don’t need to fit everything into Week 1! Carve out a moment to reflect each day about how your classroom community is developing and whether the activities you have planned are moving you closer to the supportive, engaged, and joyful community you envision. 

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