CASEL Water Cooler

What Strategies Can We Use to Integrate SEL and Academic Learning?

June 6, 2024
What Strategies Can We Use to Integrate SEL and Academic Learning?

Key Takeaways from Igniting Lifelong Learning Webinar Series, Part 2

Key Points:

  • Integrating SEL and academics involves student-centered approaches to learning, aligning academic objectives with SEL competencies, and creating opportunities for students to use their voices, reflect, and grapple with ideas.
  • Supportive learning environments are essential to this work. This means providing high expectations alongside appropriate scaffolding, and fostering connection, belonging, and curiosity. 

Our three-part webinar series, Igniting Lifelong Learning: SEL and Academic Integration, has unpacked the research behind this essential component of schoolwide social and emotional learning (SEL). Now, it’s time to talk about how to put that research into practice.

What school and classroom strategies can we use to effectively integrate SEL and academic learning?

In Part 2 of this series, Heather Schwartz, CASEL’s practice specialist, answered this question—and more—alongside education experts:

  • Dr. Veneschia Bryant, Coordinator of Social Emotional Learning, Atlanta Public Schools
  • Dr. Jen Newton, Associate Professor, Ohio University

Watch the webinar recording below, or read on for key takeaways.

What does SEL and academic integration look like in the classroom?

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“When we break down the integration of SEL and academics, we highlight three main ideas. First, educators foster student-centered approaches when we meet learners exactly where they’re at and support them to grow. We learn about students’ interests, experiences, challenges, and needs, so we can draw connections to the curriculum and foster learning.

“Second, we align SEL and academic objectives within the same lesson. Any teacher knows that we are already considering what students know and are able to do. It’s this ‘being able to do’ that really pulls on SEL. For example, in math, students are learning a new geometry skill or concept, but they’re also collaborating with peers to solve a problem. Educators can ask themselves in advance, ‘What skills will my students need to be able to collaborate effectively?’

“Third, we’re using instructional practices and pedagogy that set up opportunities for students to use their voices, reflect, and grapple with ideas.”


“At Atlanta Public Schools, we’ve combined CASEL’s 3 Signature Practices with the typical instructional process. … We now have the inclusive welcome, engaging work period, and reflective closing. We call this a ‘sandwich approach.’

“The inclusive opening, or the bread, is how we start the work period. This is an opportunity for rituals, sharing, community building, and more. The middle ingredients of the sandwich are the engaging work period. This is the facilitated learning process that encompasses both SEL skills and content skills and practices—highlighting social and emotional skills like perspective taking and communication through the content. And then we close up the sandwich with our reflective closing: things like formative assessments, summarization, synthesizing.”


What instructional strategies support students in taking academic risks?

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“We’re seeing more kids who feel anxious speaking in a class, more kids who feel pressure, who might feel depressed or withdrawn in their classroom environments. We know that these social and emotional pressures are higher than they were five years ago. Not everyone wants to raise their hand, right? … I think we can broaden the way we think about engagement.

“There are tools like Pear Deck that allow kids to enter responses into the computer that still can be put up on the screen. Or I was in a classroom the other day, and a student used a whiteboard to write a response instead of saying it out loud. Those are ways to get students engaged that provide multiple means of engagement, so that more people are involved in the discussion. These are subtle acts of courage in classrooms that can build into that social emotional growth, and there are lots of ways we can continue to build from those strategies.”


“Make curiosity a thing. Make it such a natural thing that it feels out of place to not ask questions, to not make mistakes and be curious about what happened, where it feels weird to pose judgment instead of posing a question. If ‘curiosity and connectedness lives here’ was a sign in every classroom, just imagine how learning could be.”


“Educators scaffold student experiences to ensure all learners have access to deep learning opportunities. Providing student autonomy is not the same as being hands off. It requires us to think about and prepare for individual and collective needs in the classroom. Educators grapple and learn alongside students, both as a way to model how this looks and because it keeps our content fresh. And we determine as educators when to step up and provide a hint or a clue, maybe in the form of a well-timed question, and when to just step back and let students work things out. Finally, educators ourselves are working at being socially aware, so that we can share power with our students and help them share their strengths.”


How do you encourage teamwork and collaboration when students are resistant to group work?

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“Students don’t always feel safe to do that because there’s not a lot of trust in that environment. You build trust through connectional opportunities. The more I get to know things about you, the more I’m able to share pieces about me, where eventually I feel more comfortable being in cooperative spaces with you. … Resistance means that they’re not there yet, and we have to help them get there. Dr. Newton described earlier the child who preferred to write on a whiteboard instead of sharing out loud. If that’s how they show up, that’s where we start. And if we continuously create the conditions and provide support, they will get there.”


“I give them very specific roles about who’s doing what at the beginning, before I expect them to figure it all out themselves. It is very hard to have all of that autonomy initially if they don’t know how to do that. We have to help them do it. Give that structure and scaffolding, and then help to wean it away if the goal is for them to build their own collaborative work eventually, but they aren’t going to just be there from the beginning. We have to teach them how to do it.”


Did you miss Part 1? Read the Part 1 recap. For more on SEL and academic integration, register for the final session, Beyond the classroom strategies, on June 20 at 11am.

Plus, join us November 12-14 in Chicago to explore the latest innovations and evidence at the 2024 SEL Exchange, “Accelerate: Academic Thriving and Lifelong Learning.” Early bird registration is now open!

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