Integrating Social-Emotional Learning Across the Curriculum

Powerful Strategies for Embedding SEL Across the Curriculum edLeader Panel recording link

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Over the past two years, America’s children have experienced historic challenges due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. For children entering second grade this academic year, it is highly likely that it was their first time in school as they spent kindergarten and first grade learning via Zoom.

The disruption in K-12 schools has not only had an academic impact on children experiencing learning loss, but it has also had a social impact as many children have not developed the basic social-emotional skills required to be engaged and active learners. 

Learning how to best incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) into classroom instruction was the subject of the edLeader Panel, “Powerful Strategies for Embedding SEL Across the Curriculum,” which was led by Dr. Tammy Cruz, an instructional coach for elementary schools at Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin. 

Why Do Students Need Social-Emotional Learning?

Many people unfamiliar with the inner workings of K-12 education may think that SEL is a new fad or trend due to the elevated amount of coverage it has received recently in the news media. However, this is definitely not the case as many educators have been incorporating it into their classrooms for years. In a nutshell, SEL lessons teach important life skills that help students become resilient learners who are ready for academic learning.

When students returned to school over the course of the 2021-22 academic year, it became alarmingly clear to teachers, administrators, and parents that many students—across all grade levels—needed to develop or relearn critical social-emotional skills so they would be ready to receive academic instruction.

Dr. Cruz explains that this year “children are coming to us, especially in the early grades, very ill-prepared to be able to function in the classroom. Our second-grade students have barely seen a regular school year before this year, and we can’t even call this year a regular year, so social-emotional learning has to come first.”

For older students, it is equally important for them to be able to develop both intrapersonal and interpersonal skills which help sharpen and develop career skills to either enter college or a job upon graduation. While many schools embrace PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), which can include the explicit teaching of SEL, the panelists focused on how to weave SEL into the core curriculum and make it a way of “being” instead of a skill that is separate from academic learning. 

Using the CASEL Framework for SEL Integration


The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) developed the CASEL Framework to “help cultivate skills and environments that advance students’ learning and development.”

Before implementing the CASEL Framework, it is important for educators to understand exactly what the students in their classrooms need, or rather to identify the SEL skills they lack. To identify these needs, teachers can use a CASEL-aligned universal screener, like the one offered by Satchel Pulse, to determine what kinds of lessons need to be embedded throughout instruction to build the SEL skills most needed for their students.

At the heart of the CASEL Wheel are the five basic competencies essential for learning to take place:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Responsible Decision-Making

Three Types of SEL Instruction

Using the CASEL Framework as a guide, there are three types of SEL instruction: environmental, explicit, and embedded. Environmental instruction includes supportive classroom practices that foster relationship-building or set a routine and strategies to help students feel welcomed, safe, and heard.

Explicit instruction involves SEL lessons that focus on specific SEL skills while actively engaging students with the explicit goal of growing SEL capacities. Embedded instruction integrates into the core curriculum and involves leveraging teachable moments within the curriculum to demonstrate the relevance of SEL in the learning process.

To help educators implement these three types of instruction, CASEL developed the SEL 3 Signature Practices, which are “research-based strategies for creating a safe, supportive, SEL-forward learning environment.” The signature practices are aligned with culturally responsive and trauma-informed teaching and can enhance the work a school is doing with restorative practices, MTSS, and PBIS. They are also based on research that shows that “our brains crave both routine and novelty.” The SEL 3 Signature Practices involve developing:

  • A Welcoming Routine that is inclusive and engaging
  • Engaging Strategies that allow students to interact with others, share their ideas, and move about the room
  • An Optimistic Closure routine to end the class period (or day) that wraps up the classroom work so that students do not feel rushed or confused when leaving class

Within the edLeader Panel, the presenters shared three helpful videos that demonstrated these practices in action. Examples included digital welcoming activities at the beginning of the day or class period, “Talk Moves” for activities during class, and how to structure a lesson to leave room for optimistic closure to ensure students understood the lesson or activity. Further guidance and examples can be found in CASEL’s SEL 3 Signature Practices Playbook.

The panelists also shared personal examples of activities they’ve incorporated in their classrooms and across various subject areas. Ideas included (but were not limited to):

  • Jigsaw Activity: Each student owns a piece of information (usually on paper) and as they add the information together, they get a complete picture to complete a “jigsaw puzzle.”
  • Gallery Walk: Students are the experts who put together information on certain subjects (could be science, history, etc.) and they move around to observe and ask questions about the other students’ galleries of information to both learn the subject matter and engage with one another.
  • Online Games: Web 2.0 educational games are great ways to have students engage with others, using apps like GimKit and Quizziz.
  • Self-Reflection Time: For high school students, research shows that giving students 10 minutes to write about their stress prior to a high-stakes test helps them overcome anxiety so they can focus on the test.

examples of paired group activities for social-emotional learning

Screen Before Putting SEL Strategies into Practice

While it is important to research SEL strategies to incorporate into the classroom, it is highly recommended that educators screen their students prior to introducing specific strategies in their classrooms. Just as academic benchmarks are used to determine scholastic areas of focus for students, SEL screening is needed to know which soft skills need to be mastered to become resilient, school-ready learners.

Universal SEL screeners, like those offered by Satchel Pulse, help narrow SEL targets to make the teacher a more effective SEL leader in the classroom. It takes approximately five minutes to conduct the screening, which then provides a complete view of students’ social and emotional strengths and areas for growth.  

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Powerful Strategies for Embedding SEL Across the Curriculum,” sponsored by Satchel Pulse.

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Join the Community

Social-Emotional Learning is a free professional learning community where educators can collaborate and share ideas, examples, and resources for incorporating social-emotional learning in the classroom.

Satchel PulseSatchel Pulse is designed for school leaders to track, monitor, and improve Social Emotional Learning and Culture and Climate. Satchel Pulse provides the relevant tools for data collection and analysis so that buildings can focus on taking action. Our solution is built by experts, based on decades of experience in data analytics.

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Blog post by Ginny Kirkland, based on this edLeader Panel