Transformative Social-Emotional Learning

Equip your staff community with the strategies they need to successfully implement Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in the natural environment.


What is Transformative Social-Emotional Learning?


“Transformative SEL is a justice-oriented framework to guide school communities in adopting a trauma-informed, equity-driven, anti-racist SEL approach to support the collective action of a school community to educate the whole child and cultivate systemic change. It is a systematic process for building the social-emotional capacity of both youth and adults to create caring, inclusive, and just schools and societies.” -Social Success in Schools®  


Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a systematic approach or way of teaching that helps support the development of CASEL’s 5 core
SEL competencies of:

  • self-awareness
  • self-management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decisions making

SEL is an intentional effort to help our students acquire the necessary abilities and mindsets to:

  • understand and manage their emotions
  • set and achieve goals
  • demonstrate kindness, empathy, and respect for others
  • build meaningful and healthy relationships
  • learn to use responsible problem solving and reasoning skills

According to CASEL, Transformative SEL is the wave of the future. It is a process through which students and teachers, 1) build strong, respectful relationships founded on an appreciation for similarities and differences, 2) learn to critically examine root causes of inequity, and 3) develop collaborative solutions to community and social problems. It is a form of SEL anchored in the notion of justice-oriented citizenship and intended to promote equity and excellence among children, young people, and adults (Schlund, Jagers, & Schlinger, 2020).   


Building Self-Awareness in our students means shaping the skills that help them to better understand their emotions while identifying what triggers them. It’s about helping them to recognize their strengths, limitations, needs, and values while assisting them in gaining the important skills of self-confidence and self-advocacy.

We can support the growth of these skills during our academic teaching time. We can cultivate these skills when we: 

  • Foster group discussions based on literature and children’s books that focus on how characters are feeling, what triggered those feelings, and how they reacted.
  • Design writing prompts and encourage journal writing on topics related to how students felt and reacted to certain social situations and lived experiences of their own.
  • Promote self-confidence and self-advocacy through activities that build upon students strengths and identities including student led discussions about current events or through activities that allow your students to experience the varying roles of a group.
  • Engage in culturally diverse art and movement activities to foster creativity, confidence, and self-expression of ones identity.
  • Build students’ self-awareness and acceptance of theirs and others’ strengths and limitations by using “glows and grows” group share forums to provide feedback.


Building Self-Management in our students means shaping the skills that help them to set goals while overcoming obstacles, managing stress, taking feedback, and monitoring progress towards achieving these short and long term goals. It’s assisting them in gaining strategies to self-regulate and self-motivate with grit, determination, and perseverance while knowing when to ask for help, cope with failures, and be resilient.

These skills can be fostered when we:

  • Cultivate a classroom culture that promotes executive functioning skills using a growth mindset and effective effort strategies.
  • Support the shaping of emotional regulation by modeling and encouraging everyday mindfulness and coping skills in the natural learning environment.
  • Promote student voice and agency in addressing school issues, improvements, or when handling inequities in the learning and community environments.
  • Lead classroom discussions that analyze the various character traits of leaders, that helped or hindered them in reaching their goals.
  • Foster Community CARE where all members of the school community actively and collectively promote perseverance, resilience, compassion, and empathy. 


Building Social-Awareness in our students means shaping the skills that help them to think about others and pick up on the social cues that aid them in making smart guesses about how others are thinking and feeling. It’s about fostering flexible thinkers and teaching them diversity, respect, and empathy for the varying view points and perspectives of others.

We can offer our students opportunities to shape these skills through:

  • Student led and group discussions on how we evaluate the different perspectives, values, and experiences of the varying cultures, communities, characters, and political groups in literature and historical events.
  • Acknowledging and discussing the broader historical frameworks and norms of social behavior in various situations and how to appreciate our similarities and differences.
  • Engaging students in debates or discussion about current events that foster social awareness, diversity, and respect.
  • Use of project-based and community-service learning opportunities. 

Healthy relationships

Building Healthy Relationship Skills in our students means shaping the skills that help them to make and keep friends. Helping them acquire team building skills of cooperation, communication, and leadership. Assisting them in learning conflict resolution skills and being willing and able to help others in need.

We can promote the growth of these skills by:

  • Cultivating culturally responsive relationships and encouraging a sense of ownership to socially engage with others for the greater good. 
  • Offering science lab experiments to emphasize and practice skills of listening and following directions, working in a group, making observations, and gathering data.
  • Shaping these skills in action during recess, playground, and PE activities that involve turn taking, group rules, and teamwork. These types of school activities are natural opportunities to help coach our students to manage everyday disappointments, loss, and when life just plain stinks and isn’t fair.
  • Promoting healthy communication during lunchtime which is a great time to have support staff encourage conversational skills and practicing good manners in our students; all of which are important skills our students need in order to build healthy relationships with others. 

Responsible-Decision Making

Building Responsible-Decision Making Skills in our students means shaping the skills that help them to learn important cause-effect relationships in the choices they make. In how they problem solve and reason life circumstances and determine how their current choices affect their future. It’s teaching them to self-reflect, self-evaluate, and use good moral reasoning when determining what to say and do and the impact it will have on others.

We can shape these skills:

  • During science fairs, labs, and experiments.
  • When solving math word problems using social scenarios.
  • When involving our students in school-based decisions that analyze the impact of social and institutional systems and encourages personal ownership towards ethical responsibility and moral decision-making
  • By guiding students to recognize and explain how the characters in a book or story felt, reacted, and solved their problems. How they came to make those decisions, and what were the outcomes?
  • By discussing historical events and the roadblocks, problem-solutions, and related consequences that came with those decisions and how they affected others.
  • By leveraging these discussions to then provide writing assignments that build upon your students’ ability to make inferences and use critical thinking.