Tag Archives: CASEL

We Don’t Need More SEL Lessons…

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Since the return of in person learning, schools have focused on SEL and trauma based instruction. This is a welcome shift away from the obsession of the past few decades on standardization and testing toward seeing students as humans.

Yet in many places this has meant checking off a box–“Yes, of course we teach SEL.” Districts purchase SEL curriculum that is taught in a separate part of the school day. For elementary classrooms it is often during morning meeting time; for secondary during advisory. Teachers lead a short SEL lesson and then continue on with the rest of the day; you know, the real learning.

It’s starting to feel like SEL is the latest education fad to pass through the continually shifting priorities in schools.

Canned SEL

There are several problems with this approach. First of all, canned SEL curriculum is often fake like a horrible math story problem:

Question: Ava goes to the store and buys 65 avocados. If five avocados are $8 each, how much does she spend?

Answer: Why in the world does Ava need that many avocados?

SEL curriculum can be the same way, artificial and not uniquely suited to the learners in front of us. Is it culturally appropriate? Does it match the context of our students? Does it honor the values of the families in the community?

What if instead teachers invited in elders in the community to teach SEL in culturally responsive ways? I love this example of how Hawaii is using indigenous principles and ideas as the foundation of their SEL programs.

In the typical Western way of thinking, SEL is compartmentalized into a certain part of the day to be taught through a specific lesson. Instead we know that the proper way to cultivate SEL skills in children is through adult modeling and embedding the practice of SEL skills throughout each day.

What if instead of a reading a character building lesson on teamwork written by who knows who, in a place far away from your school, you had a discussion about the current team dynamics in your class? Students could analyze how successful they are working together and what things they need to improve on. If you notice certain consistent issues popping up, you could design a reflection exercise around the specific SEL skill that is lacking.

Project Based Learning

A better approach to SEL instruction is for students to develop their skills through the natural interactions that are found in Project Based Learning. Every day students are working with their classmates in teams to solve an authentic problem. It is the ideal scenario for kids to practice all five of the CASEL competencies. Here’s just a few of the many ways to practice each one in PBL.

So we don’t need more SEL lessons…we need to cultivate SEL competencies through PBL experiences.


PBL offers a better approach than canned SEL curriculum as students discover their personal, cultural, and linguistic strengths through authentic projects. In ELA, it might look like a project exploring students’ identities tied to a novel or picture book. Students could wrestle with data around racism in math and propose policy changes. They could explore the history of marginalized people in social studies, and experience the thrill of discovery in science.

Through interesting and authentic work, students find out how their passions and strengths can contribute to the classroom and the community. PBL encourages a growth mindset as students use their talents to address needs in their neighborhood. Students develop pride and confidence, becoming self-sufficient leaders who know how to research and solve problems.


In Project Based Learning, students go beyond learning personal self-control to practicing project management skills. They manage their time, tasks, and team to meet deadlines with high quality work. Students use tools such as Need to Know lists, group contracts, and scrum boards to organize their teams and stay on pace.

Learning to successfully work with all of their classmates is a significant part of the PBL process. Students take on SEL group roles to actively practice the CASEL competencies daily. They reflect on both their project progress and their SEL skills, celebrating wins and progressing on areas of challenge. SEL is central to the daily work in the classroom.

Relationship Skills

In PBL students collaborate daily with their team, learning to successfully accomplish their goals. This does not happen naturally, but students are given tools and taught how to address conflicts and differences of opinion in democratic ways.

Furthermore students communicate and problem solve with local experts. They hone their oracy skills when giving and receiving feedback on their project ideas and prototypes. At the conclusion of their work, students proudly share their results with the community. They clearly and publicly articulate their thinking.

Social Awareness

A multi-faceted Driving Question forces students to dive into the nuance of an issue rather than seeing it as a narrow, two-sided choice. Therefore students must seek out diverse options for their project. Excellent design thinking requires empathy of the end users. In PBL students empathize with people of all ages and walks of life in the community as they research and propose solutions to a given problem.

Students can transform their communities by addressing concerns over climate change, structural racism, gentrification, or other forms of inequity. They can recognize injustice and work with the neighborhood toward solutions that benefit everyone.

Responsible Decision-Making

PBL is all about evaluating, analyzing, and solving problems. Every project presents open-ended challenges for students to exercise their problem-solving skills. The deep inquiry through research, community interviews, conversations with experts, and analyzing statistics demonstrates how to make informed decisions based on data rather than emotions or opinions.

Service projects in PBL are particularly powerful ways for students to positively make an impact. Students learn to see past themselves as individuals and instead as important citizens who responsibly contribute to the well-being of the community. They show leadership and demonstrate that kids can contribute positively no matter how young they may be.

Learn with me!

Are you interested in professional development for your school on how to integrate SEL or implement PBL? I would love to have a conversation on how I can help. I am now scheduling summer workshops and book studies. Check out my workshop page or drop me an email at mikejkaechele@gmail.com. I would love to chat and co-plan meaningful PD for the educators at your school.

Would you like to explore more deeply how to integrate SEL into daily classroom activities? Check out my book below for tons of practical ways that can be immediately implemented in any classroom.

Pulse of PBL

7 Tips to Seamlessly Integrate SEL into Daily Classroom Practice

Recently I was listening to Elena Aguilar on the excellent podcast, Cult of Pedagogy from Jennifer Gonzalez, How to Build Psychological Safety in Professional Development. Aguilar explained how SEL is connected to adult learning by creating a safe and caring environment.

The approach toward students is similar. Without a safe and caring environment, students won’t take risks and learning is often shallow. To develop deep thinkers and problem solvers, we need students with strong SEL skills. Here’s seven tips (with practical resources to support each one) to seamlessly integrate SEL into your daily classroom routines.

1. Check ins

Free Download

Self-Awareness begins with students recognizing their emotional state. Start off each day or class with a quick check in using a mood meter like the one above or try some fun How do you feel on a scale of… images. This sets a caring tone as students arrive and only needs to take a few minutes of class time.

My students enjoy making their own “scales” based on their hobbies, pets, or interests. It personalizes and humanizes the classroom. I have my middle school students check in with a neighbor student, but am always watching body language for students who seem “off” from their normal selves. It is important to follow up in private with students who self-report that they are not ok that day.

2. Reflection

Free download of elementary and secondary SEL learning targets

Reflection is a part of all five of the SEL competencies. It cements learning into the brain’s long term memory. Reflection builds students’ self-awareness when they realize their growth points and struggles in the classroom. It is also tends to be an easy part of class to skip or forget which is why I include it in my lesson plans.

Throughout the day take time to reflect on content, processes, and SEL skills. You can use protocols such as turn and talk or exit tickets to quickly think about how each student or the whole class met an SEL goal. Try downloading and using one of the SEL Learning Targets above. Reflection does not need to be long; it needs to be a consistent practice.

3. Written and Verbal Communication

Free download of 7 feedback protocols

Communication is a key part of both Relationship Skills and academic learning. We want students to not only be able to articulate their learning in written and verbal ways, but to use communication skills to successfully collaborate with each other and the community.

An advanced level of communication is when students are able to give and receive feedback. Students do not naturally have these skills, but must be explicitly taught them. Using student discussion and feedback protocols helps them to navigate a variety of opinions in respectful ways. Through practice, students will become experts at sharing their ideas and improving each others’ work.

4. Collaboration

Free SEL Group Contract Template

Another prominent Relationship Skill is collaboration. Help students effectively work together by creating group contracts at the beginning of the process before any potential conflict begins. Students can list their SEL strengths and an SEL Learning target that they want to improve on.

SEL group roles ensure that students are focused, not only on completing their work with the team, but on growing their collaboration skills. Including them in the contract, ensures that students discuss their SEL strengths and goals upfront so that they can support one another throughout the process.

5. Organization

Free download of student scrum board

Self-Management means students can organize their project themselves. Group contracts are a great starting point, but many students struggle to organize the 3 T’s: their task, time, and team. Scrum boards are a project management tool used in the business world that can help students effectively complete quality work on time.

Students list the different parts of the project and then assign members and deadlines to each one. Start each class with students checking their scrum board and creating daily goals. The teacher can conference with groups during work time to discuss their gains while looking at their scrum board. As students complete tasks they move them into the done column so that they can see their progress.

6. Problem-Solving

National Equity Project

Responsible Decision-Making requires students to solve problems at a personal level and in the world in which they live. Design thinking processes (such as my favorite above) structure student inquiry so that they can successfully explore local and global issues. Notice that empathy (Social Awareness) and reflection are key ingredients of the cycle.

As students research both the source and possible solutions to problems, they should consider multiple viewpoints. Design Thinking pushes academic content into an authentic context increasing engagement and purpose. When students present their findings, they circle back to the SEL skills of persuasive communication and collaboration.

7. PBL

All of the tips above can be combined in Project Based Learning. The opportunities to practice all of the SEL competencies are naturally part of the daily PBL classroom routines. It is the ideal framework to teach academic content and SEL skills simultaneously. We don’t need to sacrifice deeper learning for SEL. Rather SEL promotes deeper learning.

We know that effective SEL instruction must be embedded throughout the day and modeled by the teacher. In PBL, students work collaboratively to solve problems. They communicate with each other and community partners. The authentic deeper learning grows student confidence, creating leaders in the community.

Learn with me!

Are you interested in professional development for your school on how to integrate SEL or implement PBL? I would love to have a conversation on how I can help. I am now scheduling summer workshops and book studies. Check out my workshop page or drop me an email at mikejkaechele@gmail.com. I would love to chat and co-plan meaningful PD for the educators at your school.

Would you like to explore more deeply how to integrate SEL into daily classroom activities? Check out my book below for tons of practical ways that can be immediately implemented in any classroom.

Pulse of PBL