5 Tips for Infusing SEL

Jennifer AppelBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Manage Better, Self Care Better


  • Character and SEL are not an extra. They are the foundation that all other academic content rests on.
  • Include targets for SEL in lessons. CASEL has an interactive framework wheel to use.
  • When creating expectations for your students, you have to intentionally teach the concept of SEL and re-teach it.
  • Include SEL in daily practice, lessons, and activities throughout the day.
  • Teach through an equity lens.

Is it just me or is the transition from winter to spring always hectic?! Even in non-pandemic times, I find myself trying to squeeze every ounce of instruction into my daily routine.  

As a classroom teacher, I think the most difficult aspect of teaching social emotional learning is finding the time.  We all know how important character development and social emotional learning are for our students. But how do we do it all? Here are 5 tips that will help you think of SEL and character development as PART of your lesson, not something extra you have to add on.

Tips for Infusing SEL #1: It is the PLATE

I wrote a blog for CharacterStrong a few years ago talking about the idea that character/SEL education wasn’t just one more thing on the plate, it was the plate.  Character and SEL are the foundation for everything you are teaching.  This is the same idea as a math teacher.  If I skipped teaching multiplication and went straight to division, how would they learn to divide without the foundation of knowing their multiplication table?? 

It is critical for students to understand how character and social emotional learning impact everything that we do AND how they influence their future success.  Teachers must shift our thinking to understand that character and SEL are not an extra. They are the foundation that all other academic content rests on.

SEL is quite literally a system for empowering others to live their best lives with the necessary soft skills and character development that ensure thriving in an ever-changing post-pandemic world. Click To Tweet

Tips for Infusing SEL #2: Focus Your Expectations on SEL

When you are creating academic lessons, reflect on your own expectations and include targets for social emotional learning.  CASEL has an amazing interactive SEL framework wheel that is a lifesaver.  When you are creating your lessons, look at the wheel and incorporate ideas from the framework as expectations for your students.  For example, if you will be working in groups, focus on relationship skills with an emphasis on communicating effectively (i.e. Students will be able to communicate effectively with group members focusing on women’s role in ancient Greece).

Tips for Infusing SEL #3: Intentionally Teach SEL and RE-TEACH SEL

Don’t forget to review and remind your students regularly about the necessary SEL specific skills needed to complete a task.  If you are creating expectations for your students, like those mentioned above, you have to intentionally teach the concept.  If you want students to communicate effectively with group members, shared what it looks like, what it feels like, non-examples, etc.  Have the students act out group work and show you what it would look like to communicate effectively and what it wouldn’t look like.

Intentionally teaching SEL needs to happen the first time you do any activity. But the key is to always REINFORCE it with quick and consistent review throughout the duration of the activity.  Before any activity later in the year, when you are going over your expectations, incorporate a common language of SEL into your directions.

Tips for Infusing SEL #4: Include Character Education Daily

Don’t overlook the impact that short doses of character education can have on academic success. Whether your school has a character/SEL curriculum, don’t forget to infuse big ideas like grit and growth mindset into your weekly lessons.  What does it really look like to show empathy, kindness, humility, etc? 

Students need to see real-world examples of how to apply these skills.  For example, they can show empathy when someone in the class has the wrong answer.  They can look at where they were coming from to solve the problem and then have an understanding of how they got there.  Or maybe they can show humility when they win a class competition and always make sure they are thanking all of the people that helped with the project or helped them get to that point.  Character can NOT be taught in isolation. You must infuse it into your daily practice, lessons, and activities.

Tips for Infusing SEL #5: EQUITY

It’s important to think about how race, religion, and culture affect everything that we are teaching, and how our own biases exist in our culture without us even knowing about them.  We need to bring this to the attention of our students so they can be intentional and proactive in situations.  After reading the article called, “When SEL is Used as Another Form of Policing” in Medium education, I realized that people are misinterpreting what SEL is. 

SEL is not a fancy way of having RULES at your school.  It’s not designed to oppress a marginalized group.  It’s quite literally a system for empowering others to live their best lives with the necessary soft skills and character development that ensure thriving in an ever-changing post-pandemic world.  SEL should be about intentionally teaching the whole child to give them a voice to help others and themselves.  This is NOT intended to be another way to enforce general rules to all students, therefore failing to consider their cultural heritage and humanness.  Failing to teach through an equity lens erodes the very holistic principles of valuing each learner as a human being.

  Award Winning Culture infuses SEL into the daily fabric of our classrooms.

Click here to see the full blog series!

About Jennifer Appel

Jennifer Appel is an educator, coach, speaker, and writer who wants to create an environment where all students are able to learn and become passionate about serving others. She is the author of, Award Winning Dog. Additionally, she’s the Chief Heart Officer for the Teach Better Team, co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture.

Jennifer is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.