10 tips for teachers to practice social emotional learning in the classroom

MHA Admin

Wed, 08/31/2022 – 17:11

By Katie Lee, MHA Deputy Director of Communications

Teachers, aides, and others working with students have enough on their plates already. However, studies show that incorporating social emotional learning (SEL) into regular classroom activities improves classroom behavior and decreases misbehavior and aggression.

With children and teens going back to school, it is crucial adults support the mental and emotional well- being of youth as they continue to grow and learn. MHA recently hosted a webinar led by Mestisa Gass, program director for MHA of Hawaii, where she discussed the importance of SEL for the mental health of school-aged children.

“We don’t want to make this difficult,” Gass said. “We don’t want to make this feel like it is a large shift in curriculum, but it can be something as simple as starting with a student check-in.”

What is SEL?

SEL is the process through which an individual acquires and applies knowledge and skills to develop a healthy identity and includes emotional regulation, empathy, and interpersonal skills. For those new to SEL, there are four key competencies to keep in mind: awareness of self and other people; positive attitudes and values; responsible decision-making; and social interaction skills.

How can I incorporate SEL in my classroom?

Based on Gass’ presentation, here are 10 tips for integrating SEL at school.

1. Start the day with a student check-in.
For example, use the colors of a stoplight (green is good, yellow is not so good, and red means they need a break or more attention) or an emoji chart where students point to how they feel when they walk in the door.

2. Create opportunities for partner and group work.
This gives children the opportunity to flex SEL muscles and helps the teacher figure out partner pairings, such as a more outgoing child with a shy one, said Gass. “You’ll really start to see where they shine and maybe where they have a place to grown.”

3. Nurture a culture of kindness.
In a competitive environment with rankings, acknowledge every student’s efforts.

4. Build social-emotional vocabulary.
Expand vocabulary out of mad, sad, and happy. Gass said she taught a 3-year-old the word “frustrated” by giving the toddler a difficult package to open, and then asking, “is it hard to do?” When the adult says, “Oh, that must be so frustrating,” the child understands the emotions and word meaning to then use in a different scenario.

5. Include reflective writing.
Some children and teens find verbal communication difficult, and writing prompts allow them to express themselves in a different way.

6. Incorporate a “calm-down corner.”
“As an adult, you may have a place in your home where you tend to go, to a comfortable chair you like to read in, your favorite blanket. There are elements that we build into our day-to-day that’s very comfortable,” Gass said. “That’s really what we’re thinking about here for the classroom. Is there a place that they know that they can ask to step away from things that’s a little bit visually calm or a little bit quieter that they can kind of take that moment to deep breathe, to do what they need to do to reground before they go back into a group setting.”

7. Allow time for talking.
When you check-in with students, give the space to let them tell you how they feel in their own words.

8. Teach mindfulness.
Help children and teens be in the moment and aware of their bodies and minds through breathing exercises, sensory activities (smelling calming lavender or energizing citrus), or how to be aware of their surroundings.

9. Encourage expression through art.
As with writing and talking, some youths are better at communicating through different forms of art. For example, ask them to draw objects that represent how they feel and images that make them happy.

10. Teach kids to work toward a common goal.
For example, incorporate other tips on this list, such as writing and art, to create a classroom story together or a mural. Let students work on projects as an entire group to show how each person’s part is important.

Learn more tips and by watching the full webinar, and find more youth mental health resources in the MHA 2022 Back-to-School toolkit.


The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Child Sex Assault Victim
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Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
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Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
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Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
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Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
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Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: