SEL in the Curriculum

I have been working on writing curriculum for our district and after attending a couple trainings for SEL, I realized it would be the perfect fit to incorporate some intentional SEL practices. So, I wanted to give an update of the work I’ve been doing and partnership with my district’s Student Leadership and Well-Being Department. I am excited for this to “go live” for my district’s teachers in July and to see it used in classes.

We are using the Algebra II curriculum I am overseeing to pilot this initiative for our district, and then build from there. If you are reading this and not familiar with SEL competencies or practices, read my first SEL post here. As we began to write, we thought it was important to help teachers understand that this isn’t one more thing to add to their already very full plates. Instead, this is something many already do, and for those that are not familiar with SEL practices, we wanted to provide quick, low-prep ways to ensure our students are seen and heard in the process of their learning. So, we decided to write our SEL component in Stage 3 (the Learning Plan) of our Understanding by Design curriculum framework. After writing a learning target, success criteria, and a formative assessment idea, we created a way for teachers to use an SEL competency that would fit best with the unit of study.

Since Algebra II has 10 units of study, we started detailing Welcoming Inclusion Activities coupled with the signature practice of self-awareness in the first two units. The next two units incorporated Optimistic Closures that used self-management. We discussed that if students are self-aware in their behavior and growth mindset, they can then manage those in schools and in life settings. In the next few units, we focused on Engaging Strategies with social-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Therefore, as a student progresses through Algebra II, they will build their SEL abilities within each of the three practices in a seamless way that connects to the content.

An example of the Absolute Value unit using TEKS 2A.6E Solve absolute value linear equations is below:

Learning Target Success Criteria
I can solve absolute value linear equations.
  • Isolate the absolute value by doing the inverse operation.
  • Set the quantity inside the absolute value equal to the positive and negative quantity on the other side of the equal sign.
  • Solve for the variable in both equations.
  • Check your solution graphically and algebraically.
SEL Competency Definition Indicators 3 Signature Practice Example

Below are examples for you to use and adapt for your own classroom

Self Management The ability to demonstrate self-management skills to regulate emotions & behaviors related to school and life success.
  • Demonstrate the ability to manage emotions
  • Demonstrate the ability to organize and manage productivity, time and resources
  • Set, monitor, adapt, and evaluate goals to achieve success in school and life
  • Demonstrate honesty and integrity
  • Demonstrate the ability to show perseverance in the face of frustration and challenges
  • Demonstrate the ability to identify and manage stress
Optimist Closure:

One Word Whip Around (pg 46):

Since absolute value is a new function for Algebra II students, this quick activity can provide formative feedback for students and teachers.

*2 min activity, can be repeated daily

Link to Playbook 


The Playbook, which will be linked later this summer, will detail more specifics about the examples we are providing to teachers. The activities in it will be from CASEL as well as personal teacher entries that have been used with success in classrooms. I look forward to seeing and hearing how this goes with teachers and students as we bring this important focus of SEL to light with our curriculum.

If you have any ideas that you think should be included as we work on this, please reach out to me!


Be the Reason

I’ve been thinking a lot about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the value it plays in school. A few months ago, we had a training on techniques and strategies from CASEL, and it has started to weigh on my mind in two ways- in my role as a teacher support in planning and classrooms as well as personally as I think about my own son going to school soon. I think a lot of elementary teachers are natural when it comes to SEL, but sometimes it gets lost in middle school and high school. Most secondary students are shuffled to 6-7 classes a day and from the second the bell rings they are often talked at, instructed to sit down, and stop talking. This is not every teacher or every classroom, please don’t take offense at anything I say in this post, but I think as educators we need to be reflective about not only what we are teaching kids, but also how we are teaching them. Additionally, I am a complete advocate for consistent and strategic systems such as posting on your board each day the materials students should have out and ensuring students learn routines, but again we need to be aware of how our students are doing, not just what they are doing. Moreover, in secondary land, if there are 7 classes a day you might dread a class…just saying. I’ve been there, but let’s be reflective. Why are you dreading this class? Have you tried changing your mindset? Have you tried creating a new environment? Are your structures simply about getting work done, factory-like, with little to do with the whole child? If so, something might be missing. The moment I started adding SEL (without knowing it was SEL) into my routines I saw an immediate change in my students and myself. It’s about the kids and YOU enjoying what you do every day, every class. I hope this post can shed a light on building our students up, fostering a positive classroom environment, and being the reason your kids come to school.

CASEL identifies three “signature practices” for SEL instruction in classrooms which include welcoming inclusion activities, engaging strategies, and optimistic closures. Many are simple and quick ways teachers can check that they are fostering a safe and valued classroom. Here are some ideas I have pulled from CASEL and ones I did in my classroom that really made an impact.

Welcoming Inclusion Activities: 

  • Greet students by name at the door (there are some specific teachers I think of right off the top of my head that I work with who do this EVERY single day and I can see the respectful rapport they have with their kids because of it). I know emails come, papers stack, and life happens, but if you make this a habit every day and every class period you are gearing up for a great start to class and bringing your attention to what matters that moment, your students.
  • Whole group greeting activities (this may sound cheesy to high school teachers, but kids love and need these. I used to ask my students questions like, if you were the weather today, what would you be and why? If your day was a movie, what would it be and why? I didn’t do it every day and I could have been better at it…in fact I know one teacher who intentionally planned these questions every day and wow, his room was an inspiration to me. You can pose these whole group to share out or just share with a partner/table group. You don’t have to spend more than a couple minutes, but the payoff of knowing how your students are feeling and will respond that day is huge. Imagine knowing a kid is having a bad day before you start the lesson or conversely, what an awesome way to start the class celebrating something from a student that can set the tone for the lesson.
  • CASEL has several quick strategies here ( I like the Greeting Frenzy and Four Corners. Read over them and try them out!

Engaging Strategies: 

This is all about letting kids talk, work together, and engage in meaningful conversation. A lot of teachers fear what will happen when they let their kids talk, so rows start being the norm and direct instruction takes over the majority of the class period. But our kids need to communicate to dig deeper and learn from each other, and it’s our job as educators to encourage that in a safe and purposeful way. Below are some ideas.

  • Think, ink, pair, share. This is a common practice I used and I see a lot of teachers use, but it should never be overlooked. I like that CASEL added the “ink” portion to this protocol to ensure students are able to write about what they are thinking. It’s so valuable to let students have independent process time, conversation, and voice in the classroom and a protocol like this perfectly captures it all.
  • Lead4ward has an amazing list of strategies called their Instructional Strategies Playlist geared for all grade levels. I really like the Careless Clueless and never underestimate the power of a snowball fight (see Think and Throw)!! These may be new and stretch the structure of your class, but try it, I think you’ll see and hear great things!
  • CASEL has more quick strategies here ( I like Pass it On. Read through and try some out!

Optimistic Closure: 

CASEL explains “optimistic closure is not necessarily a ‘cheery ending’, but rather highlights an individual and shared understanding of the importance of the work, and can provide a sense of accomplishment and support forward-thinking.” I love this because I think SEL is not about the dichotomy of separately supporting a student’s emotional well being and their academic learning, but rather blending these two to solidify learning and progress a student’s knowledge.

So to summarize and emphasize, SEL should not be in addition to your workload but rather incorporate and enhance the good teaching you’re already doing. In a few weeks, I am attending another training by CASEL on working SEL into your PLCs. I am excited for this because I think if teachers feel SEL in their own practice, it will seamlessly transpire to students.

Here’s a quick checklist I made while you’re planning to ensure you are including SEL:

  • Am I greeting my kids at the door each day, each class?
  • Do you know the general (or individual) energy of your students before starting your content?
  • Are your students talking to each other?
  • Who is asking the majority of the questions?
  • Did the bell dismiss your students or did the learning?

What are other ways you incorporate SEL in your classroom? Which “signature practice” is your strength? Leave a comment to continue the conversation!



What is SEL?