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Building SEL and skills for the future

As educators consider the best ways that we can prepare our students for the future, we need to make sure that we focus on the mental health and wellness of our students. It has been a challenging time in the world and in education over the past two school years. To create a supportive learning space for our students, we must be intentional about helping students to build social emotional learning (SEL) skills in our classrooms.

A few years ago, I started to learn more about SEL and realized that I was not providing enough opportunities for the development of SEL in my classroom. I took time to reflect on the activities I had planned and the different digital tools that I was using with my students. What I realized is that I was creating opportunities for students to build skills in self-awareness, social awareness, and to develop relationships, however, I needed to do more and help students understand the importance of these skills for their future.

To be prepared, educators need access to a variety of resources, including methods and tools to help students build social emotional learning (SEL) skills. I recommend exploring CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, and checking out what they have for getting started with SEL and resources to share with educators and families.

SEL Matters

Why does SEL matter? There is a direct connection between SEL and the essential skills that employers seek. Skills like communication, creativity, teamwork, and problem solving to name just a few. The research surrounding SEL shows that when we address the five competencies of SEL, it positively impacts student wellbeing and also leads to an increase in student academic performance. There are quick strategies we can implement as well as different digital tools to learning experiences that foster the development of the five SEL competencies.

While there are many options, it is important that we are purposeful in deciding on the methods and tools we will use for creating spaces where our students can feel more connected to us and to each other. We can help students to build academic skills as well as the essential SEL skills by infusing a variety of activities into our daily lessons.

The five competencies

Self-awareness: Students need to become aware of their skills and interests as they learn. Understanding where we are in the learning process is important.

Self-management: Students build self-management skills as they set learning goals and work through assignments. During the learning experience, as they experience stress, they will develop the skills needed to push through these challenges. We can help students learn how to track their emotions and manage stress using different teaching methods and tools.

Social awareness: Students need to develop an understanding of the perspectives of others and learn about different cultures. Developing empathy as they learn is important and using methods like PBL for example, can help students in this area.

Relationship skills. Developing supportive relationships and working as part of a team are essential for all students and adults too. Being able to ask for help, provide support, and collaborate with others is important. Providing opportunities for students to develop relationships in our classrooms will best prepare them for future workplace success.

Decision making: Among the skills for the future, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are necessary and will enable students to be flexible especially in a changing world of work. Part of decision making includes understanding the consequences of one’s actions, focusing on well-being, and knowing how to process information and find solutions are vital for students’ success.

Think about the tools that you use in your classroom. Which ones can you use to help students to collaborate with one another, to share their learning, to set and track goals, or to explore new ideas? We know that technology will change, so it's more about keeping focused on the “what” we want students to know and be able to do. Focus on the purpose behind using a certain digital tool and how it will amplify students' learning and prepare them for the future.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at

Rachelle is the host of the PBL Podcast through Defined Learning on BAM Radio Network.

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