Tag Archives: empathy

5 Ways to Integrate SEL in the New Year

I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Most of my planned changes around exercise and diet are lucky to last a month. So rather than resolutions, let’s look at 5 ways to start integrating Social and Emotional Learning competencies into your daily classroom routines.

1. Check in

Students develop their Self-Awareness when they feel safe and loved. Teachers create psychological safety by establishing meaningful relationships through daily conversations with all of their students. An excellent routine for this is meeting students at the door. You might give students a greeting choice or if you are extremely creative you could have a personalized handshake for every student.

Free Download of Mood Meter

Another tool is the mood meter. This helps students identify their emotions which is the first step to learning self-control. Use the Check In as a formative assessment on whether or not each student is ready to learn or has some concerns that need to be addressed first. Check Ins might feel too touchy/feely for secondary teachers, but middle and high school students desire to be seen daily too.

If you are still teaching virtually, you can greet students by name when they enter the space. You could have them tell you their mood via public or private chat. You can also use a Google form to check in with how students are feeling. I like to play a song and have students vote “jam” or “not a jam” in the chat for attendance. It’s a fun way to start a session and build some community. I have even started taking student song requests.

2. Check out

An important part of Responsible Decision Making is reflection. Reflection creates velcro moments where the learning “sticks.” Start a daily routine of ending each class with a Check Out. Try journaling, exit tickets, or turn and talks. Mix it up between written and verbal checkouts to keep it fresh.

Sometimes reflection should focus on content with a formative check of a concept learned. Other times students can self assess on an SEL competency that the class is concentrating on. Students could consider how their group is working together or if they have been actively listening without judgement. Reflection doesn’t need to be a huge time suck. Two or three minutes a day is enough.

Checking out virtually is easy to adapt. You can have them share in pairs in random breakout rooms, post their thoughts in the chat, on Padlet, in a Google Form, or in a myriad of other online tools (stick to a few key online tools so as not to overwhelm students and parents). They could record a 30 second reflection on Flip or SeeSaw.

3. Re-evaluate Norms

The start of the year is a great time to reboot class norms and routines, but why not ask students to evaluate the current class culture? Give your students specific scenarios where they struggle to discuss in a talking circle. Students will develop Self-Management by coming up with updated norms for class.

Each day assign one SEL norm to focus on during the class period. At the end of class, have students self assess how they did on that norm by holding up a fist to five. Be sure to debrief privately with individual students whose number does not match your observation (whether it is higher or lower). This is your opportunity to reinforce the norms and hear their perspective on why they are struggling.

For online classes, assigning a norm to focus and reflect on, can be done with a fist to five held up to the camera or by having students type the number to you in a private chat message. Have students reflect on the norms of your online class and what has and hasn’t been working. Mimic a talking circle by having students call out another’s name and “pass” an imaginary talking stick to each other’s video squares in gallery view. Have fun by pretending to throw and catch it!

4. Read

Empathy is the most important aspect of Social Awareness. Lack of empathy is a major cause of conflicts around the world. Literature is a great way to teach it. In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain Zaretta Hammond states, “When we are being told a story or are telling it, the brain’s neurons light up not only in the language processing parts of the brain but in other regions just as if we were performing the action ourselves (p.135).” Stories allow us to experience other’s lives and perspectives.

Literature should be a part of every classroom, kindergarten through high school. Some of the best genres to teach empathy are biographies and historical fiction. Choose diverse stories to encounter feelings and opinions from across time and space. Don’t neglect less traditional forms such as graphic novels, podcasts, audio books and picture books. Read aloud to your whole class to engage reluctant readers in empathetic stories.

Virtually, you can still have a group read aloud and for fun invite in special guest readers. It could be older students, parents, or kids in another part of the world. Since students are in remote learning situations across the globe, use this as an opportunity to find a sister class and learn about another culture and the stories that they tell.

5. Launch a Project

Project Based Learning is the ideal framework for SEL. Look over your standards for the next quarter and think about what adults use that content and in what context. Have your students actively engage by mimicking professional jobs that match the content. Invite in local experts to guide your students through inquiry. For project ideas by grade level and content, check out the Project Library at PBLWorks.org.

Relationship Skills such as teamwork and communication are best taught, practiced, and assessed in the context of student groups working on an authentic project. Students need to be directly taught SEL, just like any content or skill. Don’t try to teach all of the competencies at once. Choose one aspect at a time to address during the project so students can focus on improvement in that area.

In remote learning situations, developing Relationship Skills can be challenging, but students are social beings who crave interaction. Use breakout rooms and schedule small group meetings to help student teams organize and complete tasks. One advantage is that with so many adults working from home, it can actually be easier to get guests to video conference with students. They can be more than just a guest speaker, but can co-design with students or give critiques of their work. Learning how to manage a team virtually is one of the most authentic and practical skills that students can master.

Learn with me!

If you are interested in how your school can develop high quality projects in a PBL framework, I would love to have a conversation on how I can help. I have limited availability for PBL & SEL workshops during the school year so contact me early. 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.

Pulse of PBL

Using Visuals to Cultivate SEL

Photo by Mpumelelo Macu on Unsplash

For ten years, the New York Times has published “What’s Going on in This Picture?” (WGOITP) every Sunday night during the North American school year. It is an excellent activity asking students three questions:

What’s going on in this picture?

What do you see that makes you say that?

What more can you find?

This is a wonderful literacy strategy for students of all ages to hone their observation skills important in both the sciences and humanities. It can be stretched into creative writing by having student write or tell a story about what they think is happening in the picture. Or throw a twist in and ask students to guess what happened leading up to the picture or predict what will happen next.

Recently the Times featured Twenty Puzzling Photos Featuring Kids and Teens From Around the World showcasing some of their all time favorites. I started thinking about how WGOITP could be more than an observation and literacy strategy, but also teach the Social and Emotional Learning competencies of Self-Awareness and Social Awareness. Many of the images feature people expressly strong emotions so they are perfect to help younger (and older!) learners identify feelings in others. I tweaked the Times’ prompts for an SEL focus:

What emotion do you think they are feeling?

Why do you think that? (evidence)

Think of a time that you felt that way.

Identifying Emotions

The Times WGOITP images are great because they include the backstory for the pictures to expand upon what students observe. But teachers could also use free Creative Commons 0 websites such as Pixabay or Unsplash to find their own images. Try searching for an emotion such as joy or pain to prompt students to talk about what that specific feelings look like.

My first two discussion questions focus students on interpreting the picture with a focus on emotions expressed. The last question is an opportunity for students to connect the emotion to themselves and perhaps confidentially share with an elbow partner or small group. We want to make discussing one’s feelings a normal part of our classroom culture, and this is a great way to practice it.

As a next step educators could have students look for their own pictures to demonstrate a certain emotion or feeling. Or ask students to take pictures of themselves demonstrating a certain emotion. Create a shared presentation in Google Slides or other platform with each student contributing one picture. Then have the class guess what emotion is on each slide and see if there is agreement. When students disagree, discuss how emotions and feelings are sometimes hidden.

Students could share their needs when they are feeling a strong emotion such as private space, a friend to talk to, physical comfort, or physical activity to blow off steam. They should recognize that different people process feelings in different ways and may have different needs for the exact same emotion. Students will now be equipped to support a classmate who is angry or sad by asking what they need to feel loved and safe.


WGOITP is a great protocol to cultivate empathy. Choose images from other cultures or regions than where your students live. After processing the feelings of the people, have students find the true story behind the image. Use this opportunity to be culturally responsive and build empathy by having students learn about customs and traditions from other parts of the world. By focusing on young people, the images can connect to the common themes, experiences, and interests that all youth have -music, sports, where and how they live, food, holidays, school, and their families.

For example the image at the top of this post is of people from Mamelodi, a former apartheid township in South Africa. This picture could lead to a discussion comparing the end of apartheid in South Africa to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Or students could research the history and culture behind face painting in different African societies. Students might contrast African traditions with makeup in Western cultures and look at the similarities and differences in what is considered “beautiful.”

Learn with me!

If you are interested in how your school can use a PBL framework to teach SEL skills. I would love to have a conversation on how I can help. I have limited availability for PBL & SEL workshops during the school year so contact me early. 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.

Pulse of PBL