by Elly Setterfield

Imagine a classroom where your students not only excel academically but also possess the skills to navigate their emotions, build healthy relationships, and confidently tackle life’s challenges.

Now picture the same thing for yourself: enhanced emotional intelligence, better relationships, and the ability to meet difficult situations both in and outside the classroom with resilience and strength.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a methodology that goes beyond traditional education to nurture and develop the whole child. But it isn’t just for children, or indeed the classroom; it’s a lifelong journey that can have a profound impact on our personal and professional lives and help us reach our full potential for growth and well-being.

According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which we acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, demonstrate empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. In an educational setting, SEL focuses on promoting emotional well-being, social competence, and academic success.

Why do teachers need SEL?

As teachers we already have many demands on our time, so it’s understandable if you’re questioning whether or not developing your SEL skills is just another thing to add to an already long to-do list.

What if I told you that SEL had the capacity to make you a better teacher, to reduce your stress, and help you develop stronger teacher-student relationships, in addition to maintaining a positive mindset?

There’s further good news: you already have SEL skills, and improving them can be a matter of small changes and practices.

We all know that it can be difficult to leave the challenges of teaching in the classroom. Exact numbers vary according to the study, but research has repeatedly shown that a large number of teachers experience a high level of daily stress, affecting their health, sleep, quality of life, and their teaching. This has a knock-on effect: when teachers are highly stressed, their students show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance (Greenburg et al., 2024).

If we’re required to teach SEL skills to our students (or choose to do so of our own accord) there are also motivations to develop our own skills. In one research study, teachers instructed to teach SEL who did not develop their own SEL skills made their students’ SEL skills worse (Brackett et al., 2012). We also know that children learn SEL skills better when their teachers can effectively model the skills in question (Berman et al., 2018).

If we won’t do it for the benefits it can have on our own teaching, perhaps we should consider the benefits of SEL for our own well-being - adults who recognise, understand, label, and regulate their own emotions are less likely to report burnout and demonstrate higher levels of patience and empathy (Brackett et al., 2012).

So how can teachers develop their SEL skills?

Developing our own SEL skills can take various forms. Reflective practices, such as journalling or mindfulness exercises, allow teachers to deepen their self-awareness and regulate and manage their emotions. Learning about SEL skills (even as they apply to your students) can equip you with the knowledge and tools to effectively integrate SEL into your personal life as well as your classroom.

Here are just a few potential strategies, grouped according to CASEL’s five key SEL competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Why not give some a try, and see if you notice any difference?

1. Ways to Develop Self-Awareness

  • Start to recognise and label your own emotions. For example, make a habit of labelling how you feel just before going into a lesson. It can also be helpful to consider how your emotions then play into your reactions.
  • Ask your students for feedback: ‘I tried something new today. What did you think? Should we do it again?’
  • Think of how you’ve overcome a challenge or achieved a goal. Demonstrate a growth mindset by sharing this with your students.
  • Remember that we’re all human! You won’t always be your best self at every moment of every day – and that’s ok.

2. Ways to Develop Self-Management

  • Self-management is all about being in control of your emotions. As much as it often sounds like a cliché, this is where self-care comes in. Make sure you’re looking after yourself. Ensure you’re eating properly, getting exercise, spending time with friends, getting enough sleep. Self-care isn’t going to make difficult situations magically go away, but it is going to help you be more equipped to deal with them.
  • Set goals for yourself and your teaching. What’s a new idea or activity you could try?
  • It’s far, far easier said than done, but try to approach new or unexpected situations as learning opportunities. A challenging class could be an opportunity for you to learn and grow as a teacher.
  • Acknowledge things that cause stress in your students’ lives. Use strategies for managing stress, and consider introducing some of them to your students.

3. Ways to Develop Social Awareness

Your students learn SEL skills best when they see them put into practice. Demonstrate appreciation and acceptance of other people’s beliefs and cultural differences, in interaction with your students and the materials you use in class.

Consider your students’ perspectives on decisions you make. Where appropriate, take their opinions into account, for example giving less homework one week if you know your class has upcoming exams.

Be willing to compromise!

4. Ways to Develop Relationship Skills

  • Get to know your students, and let them get to know you. Within appropriate boundaries, share some information about your life, for example about your family, a hobby, or a weekend activity.
  • Your students will see relationship skills in practice in your relationships with them. Model fairness, respect, and appreciation for others in your classroom.
  • Notice how and when you are offering praise and constructive criticism in your classroom. Do you need to adjust the balance?

5. Ways to Develop and Practice Responsible Decision Making

  • Consider different problem-solving strategies and model these for your students, such as gathering all the relevant information before drawing a conclusion.
  • Incorporate your students’ feedback and perspectives when making decisions. Make decisions collectively when appropriate.

In a world where teachers wear many hats and juggle different responsibilities, it’s easy to neglect ourselves and our own development. So let’s move away from the notion that Social and Emotional skills are things we only need to learn as children. Remember, it’s never too late to learn, grow, and become the best version of ourselves – and that includes being a more fulfilled, emotionally balanced teacher!


Greenberg MT, Brown JL, Abenavoli RM. (2016). Teacher Stress and Health. [Online]. [9 February 2024]. Available from:

Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Rivers, S. E., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2012). Assessing teachers’ beliefs about social and emotional learning. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(3), 219–236.

Berman S with Chaffee S & Sarmiento J. (2018). The Practice Base For How We Learn Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. [Online]. [9 February 2024]. Available from:

Author Biography

Elly Setterfield is a teacher trainer and Young Learner ELT specialist, with over 14 years' experience of working with children and teenagers within the ELT industry. She started her own teaching career with IH Zelenograd, and has trained teachers across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. She is currently particularly interested in how to develop happier, healthier teachers of English.

She blogs at