Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Champions Social Emotional Learning and Its Power in the Classroom

Jesse AltmanMission & Outcomes, Teachers

This past summer, I attended one of the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) workshops and learned how to empower students through Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the classroom. It was an eye-opening workshop that showed me classrooms aren’t just for learning math and science anymore, but also to help students develop their social and emotional capacities through classroom practices.

What Is Social Emotional Learning?

SEL, as defined by the organization CASEL, is, “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” SEL is broken down into five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Teachers can focus their activities on these competencies to empower their students to take ownership of their social and emotional well-being.

SEL Competencies Wheel

Each competency focuses on a different aspect of social and emotional learning and is further broken down into emotional skills, social skills, and responsible decision-making. The emotional learning takes place through the self-awareness and self-management competencies. Self-awareness encompasses identifying your emotions, being perceptive of your thoughts and values, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses with confidence and a growth mindset. Self-management is governing your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors successfully in all situations. By managing stress and controlling impulses, students are more capable of creating and achieving positive goals.

Social learning occurs through social awareness and relationship skills. By learning how to be empathetic and take others’ perspectives, students are better able to handle social situations and treat others with respect – i.e. Social awareness. Teaching students relationship skills such as teamwork, communication, and conflict resolution helps them create and maintain positive, healthy relationships in school and throughout their lives. Finally, responsible decision-making teaches students how to identify, analyze, and solve problems and how to assess the consequences of their actions with a consideration for everyone’s well-being.

Applying SEL in the Classroom

The teachers in the workshop learned how to apply SEL in their classrooms through intentional and mindful practices and honest, open communication with their students. By treating SEL as academic content, teachers can create intentionality and carve out time to practice SEL skills with their students and incorporate them into the rest of the academic day. The workshop used chapters from the book, “Everyday SEL in Elementary School” by Carla Tantillo Philibert to explore different SEL practices in the classroom. One practice is creating a call to action such as “Be The Solution” to unify the class and encourage students to be mindful of their actions in the classroom. Students are reminded to behave well and be part of the solution and not the problem. Being the solution might include sitting up tall with both feet on the floor, hands folded, and respecting their neighbor’s personal space. Another is creating a POP Chart that helps students Pause, and identify their thoughts, emotions, and feelings in their bodies, Own those thoughts and emotions by placing their own magnet or tag on a board that ranges between Thumbs up, thumbs to the side, or thumbs down, and then pick a Practice that matches whatever the student is feeling at the time. Some practices include yoga, breathing exercises, or partner mirroring. Creating a space for students to do these practices helps students center themselves. Students can calm or energize their minds and bodies depending on what they need in the moment. There are many ways teachers can model and cultivate appropriate and positive behavior and all of them are empowering to students.

SEL Empowers Students

Empowering our students

There is a lot to gain for students who are participating in SEL throughout their school day. Taking ownership over their emotional well-being empowers students to create a space for themselves to succeed academically and personally. As they learn how to identify their emotions and manage their moods, they are able to handle the stresses impacting their lives and take control of their day. Students become more comfortable creating new relationships by learning important social skills . Through all of this, stronger decision-making is learned so they are empowered to make decisions. WITS’s work is charged by our three core values: consistency, empowerment, and community. I am excited to use some of the knowledge and skills I learned at the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award workshop to further empower our WITS students during my programs this year.

WITS’ focuses on driving two measurable literacy outcomes: improving reading level growth and attitudes toward reading.


Over the past 3 years, 68% of WITS students surpassed the national average for annual reading level growth


Over the past 3 years, 65% of WITS students reported an improvement in overall attitude toward reading and reading behaviors (i.e. reading out loud, reading during a test, reading to learn, etc.)

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