Three SEL Tips Every Educator Should Know

Teacher giving a geography lesson in classroom at the elementary school

Social Emotional Learning is a topic coming back to the forefront of our conversations in the field of youth development, with a renewed understanding of the importance of building our young people’s emotional strength in order to build a strong foundation for present and future success.

In the area of leadership development, this is especially important as we demonstrate for our young people what it means to be an effective leader so that they may have maximum positive impact on the world around them. Socially Emotionally strong leaders have a solid grasp on how our inner thoughts and emotions affect our outer interactions and decisions.

As leaders, then, it is imperative that we model this Social and Emotional leadership.  Here are three tips for us to ponder about how we do just that:

  1. Stop Referring to a Work/Life Balance (there is no such thing)


I get the idea behind that saying, but it’s just all wrong. Because the implication is that there is “work” and then there is “everything else,” and that the “everything else” constitutes life. But the truth is, our life is our life—it’s everything that is made up of our every day.  And work is a part of that, not separate from it. When we try to separate work into a box that exists outside of everything else, we automatically create a disconnect in our mind and in our hearts, and that disconnect makes it more difficult for us to fully connect at work and outside of work.  So instead of “balancing work and life,” we should think of it as “navigating through life.” If we understand that our lives will always be full, and will always contain many things, and will always have the good bits and the bad bits and the boring bits and the hard bits and the scary bits and the frustrating bits and the surprising bits….   If we understand that, we can approach each day with the question of how to best navigate all of it, today. And if we are intentionally and consciously doing that, we are modeling for our students to do the same.


  1. Your Energy Impacts Those Around You


We may think that we exist in a self-contained bubble of our own existence, but we don’t. Our energy spills out from us and onto those around us. And that energy has an impact on the people we come into contact with, whether we want it to or not.  You know this to be true, because you’ve experienced it.  You’ve experienced it when you are in a room with a very stressed out person and you suddenly feel tense and stressed yourself.  You’ve experienced it when you’re in a room with someone who is genuinely filled with joy about something and you suddenly feel happier, just on behalf of that person.  Or when a person laughs uncontrollably, and you can’t help but join them. Or when someone is angry at all those around them and you feel yourself shrinking away, your true self growing smaller and tighter. They say actions speak louder than words, but I think energy speaks louder than both.  So as leaders and especially as educators we must be mindful of our energy, and teach our young people to do the same.


  1. Understand, First


The Bible and St. Francis and Steven Covey were right. So many of us talk and talk and talk in effort to be understood, in the hopes that everyone else would finally just “get” us already. How many times have you said, or heard, some version of “They just don’t understand me!” or “Why doesn’t so-and-so understand??”  But our job, as socially and emotionally fit leaders, is to enter every interaction with the intention of understanding. Of understanding the perspective and viewpoint and lens through which those around us are experiencing the moment we are in.  If I try to understand you, rather than talking until I’m blue in the face until you understand ME, then my listening is better. My energy is more open. My approach is softer.  And the chances of us actually communicating improve exponentially.


The beautiful and frustrating and fascinating thing about social and emotional skill development—the whole concept of SEL—is that it’s never done. It will never be something you can check off your list and declare mastered. You will never finish. Every day is an opportunity to flex your social and emotional muscles; every day brings new challenges and opportunities that will invite those muscles to grow.  


Let’s learn from each other—how do you work on your social and emotional leadership?

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