Social-Emotional Learning Starts With Us

Social-Emotional Learning Starts With Us

We can’t teach a classroom full of students how to play the guitar, unless we ourselves know how to rock out. Why?

We can’t teach what we don’t know.

The same is true for Social-Emotional Skills. Teachers, administrators, and support staff are most effective when they understand and develop their own personal social-emotional capacities before addressing those of their students. That’s why social-emotional learning starts with adults. 


Teacher and Student High FiveTeaching can be stressful. You know it. We know it. Science knows it. In fact, teaching has been recognized as one of the most stressful jobs in the United States (Herman, Hickmon-Rosa, and Reinke 2018; Lopez and Sidhu 2013). What if we told you that bringing more ease to your own life and practicing social-emotional learning (SEL) is an invaluable part of your students’ success? 


As you read the definitions of CASEL’s five SEL core competencies below, think about how these various areas show up in your own life and where you might like to bolster your skills. We’ve also added an SEL strategy you can use for each competency.


1. Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose. For example, this could be identifying emotions, having a growth mindset, linking feelings, values and thoughts as well as identifying personal, cultural and linguistic assets. 


Strategy: Name your emotions! We are more likely to be swept up in emotions we fail to detect. Labeling our emotions helps us identify and communicate our feelings and can serve as important data. 


2. Self-management

Self-management is the ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals. Examples include managing emotions, identifying and using stress-management strategies, setting personal and collective goals, using planning and organizational skills or showing the courage to take initiative. 


Strategy: Practice the pause! It’s so normal to react immediately when something happens. In doing so, we can miss the opportunity to slow down and check-in with ourselves to make sure we’re showing up in a way that’s best for us and others around us. Taking a moment creates an opening to skillfully respond instead of react.


3. Social Awareness

Teacher sympathizing with student Social Awareness is the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and support.” For example, seeing others’ perspectives, recognizing strengths in others, demonstrating empathy and compassion, identifying diverse social norms, including unjust ones and understanding the influences of systems on behavior. 


Strategy: Use an asset lens! Our brains are designed to easily see deficits and what’s “not working” in any given moment. While it’s common to do so, it often isn’t helpful or empowering for anyone involved. Seeing students and colleagues for their strengths creates more motivation, positive reinforcement and a stronger foundation for your relationship and the love of learning.  


4. Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills is the ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate as well as navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities. Other examples include: practicing teamwork and collaborative problem-solving, negotiating conflict constructively, seeking or offering support and help when needed and standing up for the rights of others.  


Strategy: Make connections! “Relationships are at the heart of schooling” (that’s from Mark Twain, we can’t take the credit). Sending a positive note home strengthens home-school connections while also positively reinforcing certain behaviors. Taking the five minutes to write a note strengthens your relationship with the student, their guardians and likely creates a feel-good moment at home. That’s a lot of bang for your buck! 


5. Responsible Decision-making

Responsible Decision-making is the ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacity to consider ethical standards and safety concerns and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being. For example, demonstrating curiosity and open-mindedness, learning how to make a reasoned judgment after analyzing information, data, and facts, anticipating and evaluating the consequences of one’s actions and recognizing how critical-thinking skills are useful both inside and outside of school. 


Happy Preschool Students in ClassroomStrategy: Call in support! We make so many decisions a day, let’s use tools and strategies to make the best decisions possible. Using a decision tree is a graphic visual that helps us evaluate consequences to ultimately make better decisions. When in doubt, call on a friend to run through your pros and cons list. Decisions don’t need to be made alone! 


Quality SEL instruction occurs when educators are emotionally aware. Emotionally aware educators are more adaptive, resilient and are better able to connect to their students. As a result, you are an integral part of creating a classroom environment for students to thrive. Not only will this understanding of SEL increase the quality of relationships with your students and colleagues, but it will also contribute to your overall sense of well-being. 


WhetSocial-Emotional Learning Starts with Us: Empowering Teachers to Support Studentsher you are an SEL expert or a novice, we appreciate you. You do the hard work of shaping our youth, as well as the “heart” work. If we were Oprah, this is the part where we give you a mid-size sedan (You get a car!). While it’s not a mid-sized sedan, we offer you this book — a guide to support you in developing your SEL skills.


Check out what one teacher has to say about Social-Emotional Learning Starts With Us: Empowering Teachers to Support Students


I had such an “ah-ha” moment yesterday using SEL Starts with Us! We are reading a story and usually, I would have students write 10 things they know about their dad, grandma, etc.  After reading the chapter on Self-Awareness, I decided to change it up.  I invited my students to write 10 things about themselves. Since SEL starts with me,  I wrote a list about myself, shared (building relationships), and then asked them to write about themselves. One student wrote “ I hate to read” but when he finished writing, he continued reading the book.  When I asked him why he wrote that, he replied, “This is different, I like this book.”  He then changed his answer  to “I like to read good books.”  I could see that this was a big realization for the student and a major success for me!

–Michelle DeLaRosa
4th Grade
Jane Addams School


For more guidance and resources on SEL, check out our other blog articles.


SEL Starts with Us: Strategies to Support Teachers and StudentsWhat's Next?

Watch our on-demand webinar on on Social-Emotional Learning Starts with Us: SEL for Administrators and School Leaders.

We can’t teach what we don’t know. Teachers, administrators, and support staff are most effective when they understand and develop their personal social-emotional capacities before addressing students. Research has shown that SEL increases academic achievement, improves behavior, and contributes to the overall sense of well-being for students and teachers. This dynamic session will provide participants with stand-alone SEL activities as well as engaging strategies that can be integrated into the content areas for grades K–12.


In this webinar, participants will:

  • Understand the benefits of each of the five SEL core competencies and how they relate to the participants’ unique role.

  • Enhance their own personal understanding of SEL by engaging in strategies firsthand.

  • Be provided with easy-to-implement strategies that can be used anytime, anywhere.


Register Now:

Watch the on-demand webinar at your own pace.



Trisha DiFazio, M.A. Ed.Trisha DiFazio, M.A. Ed.

Co-Author of Social-Emotional Learning Starts With Us: Empowering Teachers to Support Students

Trisha DiFazio is an education consultant for Teacher Created Materials (TCM) and a former adjunct professor in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California (USC). Trisha was also a contributing author on TCM’s Language Power:  Building Language Proficiency series as well as Creating Social Emotional Learning Environments. She is passionate about empowering teachers and students around Social Emotional Learning as well as Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching. Ms. DiFazio holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lake Forest College with a double concentration in English and Spanish, a Master of Arts in Teaching from National Louis University, an ESL Endorsement from Dominican University, and International TEFL Certification from the International Teaching Center in Madrid, SpainAs a result of studying with instructors from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), Trisha has experienced firsthand how practicing mindfulness contributes to one’s overall health and sense of well-being.


Allison Roeser, MHS, PCC, ALTAllison Roeser, MHS, PCC, ALT

Co-Author of Social-Emotional Learning Starts With Us: Empowering Teachers to Support Students

Allison Roeser, Master of Health Science (MHS) and Professional Certified Coach (PCC), is an SEL consultant and author for Teacher Created Materials (TCM). She has almost two decades of experience working with leaders in education, child welfare, and social change. With a Masters in Health Science from Johns Hopkins University, Allison’s thesis focused on increasing effective communication for early childhood educators in disadvantaged districts. Allison is currently the lead career success coach at SV Academy (voted one of the top education start-ups in 2020 by Fast Company) in addition to leading workshops and training courses for schools and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a program that advocates for foster care youth in San Francisco. Before becoming a coach, Allison was the Deputy Director at Westat, a research organization focusing on the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, in addition to developing leadership and life skills for underserved youth in Chicago public schools. As an avid learner of mindfulness practices, Allison has seen firsthand the value of integrating self-awareness into professional and personal development.



Author bio

Trisha DiFazio, M.A. Ed. & Allison Roeser, MHS, PCC, ALT

For more about these authors, read their bios above.