Staff members brainstorm how they will intentionally model SEL in their interactions with students.

Modeling SEL for Students

Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice


Time Required

  • 45 minutes



  • Poster/chart paper: Write each of the five social and emotional competencies, i.e., Self-Management, Self-Awareness, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Responsible Decision-Making, on large poster paper and hang them up around the room
  • Markers
  • Handout: Social and Emotional Competencies
  • Post-it notes
  • Writing materials


Learning Objectives

Staff members will:

  • Brainstorm a list of social-emotional competencies that they can model for students


Additional Supports


SEL Competencies

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

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • If you are leading this exercise with staff members, take a moment to look at the chart of competencies and reflect on how you model social and emotional competencies for students. Which ones do you already do well? As a form of self-care, identify one or two that you would like to cultivate this year and find a colleague to help you regularly reflect and stay on track.
  • Have all staff members received training in social-emotional learning?
  • Are all staff members participating in this practice? If not, whose voice is missing?
  • Is the school leadership privileging their view of SEL competencies over that of staff and/or students?
    • For example, are staff members expected to adhere to a specific way of enacting social-emotional competencies, or does the school acknowledge and provide space for sharing different groups’ beliefs and expressions of these competencies?
    • For instance, asserting oneself–a common SEL skill taught in the U.S.–is not viewed as mature behavior in all cultures.
  • How is this practice relevant to staff and students’ lives, both in and out of school? Would they agree with you?


Note: This activity can be adapted or expanded to include considerations for how staff will model SEL in their interactions with other staff, families, community partners, etc.

  • Welcome staff and ask them to reflect on the quote: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” (James Baldwin in “Fifth Avenue, Uptown” published in Esquire, July 1960).
    • Ask staff to find a partner and share what this quote means to them and how it relates to promoting students’ SEL.
  • Review each of the five core social and emotional competencies and how they connect to student outcomes and lifelong success.
    • Prompt staff to think about how students learn these competencies in many ways–through classroom lessons, through afterschool groups, and by “imitating” the way that adults model these competencies.
    • Ask staff to do a 1-minute free write to reflect on one way they demonstrated a social and emotional competency when interacting with students in the previous week.
  • Divide staff into five groups and assign each group to one of the SEL competency posters (i.e., “Self-Awareness,” “Self-Management”, “Social Awareness”, “Relationship Skills”, “Responsible Decision-Making”.)
    • Give staff 5 minutes at their poster to collectively brainstorm how staff can model this competency in their interactions with students.
    • As they brainstorm, a notetaker in each group should record their ideas on the poster paper.
    • After five minutes, ask the group to move to the next poster, read what the previous group has written, then add on to the existing ideas.
    • Rotate until each group has gone to every poster.
  • Provide an opportunity for staff to do a “gallery walk” around all five posters.
  • After staff return to their seats, ask them to write on a post-it one specific way they will model SEL in their interactions with students in the coming week.
    • Ask staff to share what they wrote in small groups, then close out the activity.
  • After this activity, your SEL team can synthesize and type up the ideas to create printed posters or one-pagers that can be distributed to all staff, used in team meetings, and/or hung in classrooms.
    • You can use this template to create this.
    • This handout has additional examples of how staff might model each of the competencies.



Adapted from the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL, developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). CASEL, a nonprofit founded in 1994, defined social and emotional learning (SEL) more than two decades ago. Today, CASEL is a trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based SEL and collaborates with leading experts and supports districts, schools, and states nationwide to drive research, guide practice, and inform policy.

Reflection After the Practice

  • Do you notice a shift in school culture as staff members begin to intentionally model SEL for students? If so, is it a positive shift or did this practice unearth some opportunities to grow, such as positive communication and/or conflict resolution?
  • What is your plan to continue modeling SEL skills for students?
  • What adjustments were made to the practice based on staff and student input? How did it go? (We encourage you to share your experience with other users in the comments section.)
  • Were staff members given the opportunity to discuss different groups’ beliefs and behaviors around the SEL competencies? If so, how will these differences be honored in a way where none are viewed from a deficit lens?
  • Were all staff members able to participate in this process? If not, how might they be supported in this work?
  • Did staff members discuss how the practice may or may not be relevant to their or their students’ lives? If so, in what ways?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

Ongoing training and support of educators in cultivating their social-emotional competencies is key to successfully implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) into schools. Indeed, researchers have found that SEL program implementation is more successful when all stakeholders in a school are committed to SEL as part of their professional development.


Why Does It Matter?

When staff model SEL in how they interact with students throughout the school day, they offer positive examples of how to navigate stress and frustration, build and maintain healthy relationships, take on different perspectives, and reflect on how their decisions impact others.

In addition, classroom teachers who model SEL effectively can positively influence the learning climate in their classroom. For example, teachers who model self-awareness and social awareness when responding to student questions help to minimize anxiety and contribute to an equitable classroom where all students feel comfortable making their voices heard.

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
–James Baldwin
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