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Social-Emotional Learning for the Adults

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is essential for ALL learners — both kids and adults — and we must be willing to learn from kids, peers, and the world to build SEL into our practice as educators.

SEL for ALL Learners

The research on emotions and their impact on learning is clear. So, how do our kids feel at school? In a joint initiative between the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Born This Way Foundation, the Emotion Revolution study asked over 22,000 middle and high school students across the United States “How do you feel each day in school?” The top three responses were tiredbored, and stressed. Teachers were also surveyed and their top responses were frustratedstressed, and overwhelmed. As educators, we’ve all been there and we can relate, right? Especially now, as we experience school closures and a shift to emergency remote teaching in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators are under an unprecedented amount of pressure.

SEL is definitely a hot topic right now, but it isn’t just the latest craze. The studies are clear: a decline in satisfaction at school or work means a decline in social-emotional health, and that is a huge problem. With more and more educators adopting SEL practices into their classrooms/schools, the conversation is evolving. We are moving away from SEL and academics happening in isolation and we are starting to engage in our own social-emotional learning. Finally! It is time to make SEL a natural part of our practice as adult learners, not only for self-care but also to model for our learners. And how do we do that? By learning from kids, peers, and the world! 

Learning about SEL from Kids

We start with learning from kids because we believe all thinking about teaching and learning should start with our kids. We also believe that we are all – kids and adults – unique individuals with our own unique gifts (knowledge, skills, and dispositions). 

Naturally, we can learn a lot from kids by just interacting with them, asking questions and engaging in thoughtful discussions where we truly listen, but our research found programs like inspirEd which take learning from kids to a whole new level. inspirED ( provides free resources, designed by teens, educators, and SEL experts to empower kids to work together to create a more positive school climate and foster greater wellbeing in their schools and communities. inspirED is both an example of the importance of emotional intelligence in education as well as an example of learning from and with kids.

Learning About SEL from Peers

Explicitly teaching SEL to our kids is so important, and we have to remember that in order to truly teach it, we have to model it. SEL is also critical as we build a climate of trust, mutual respect, and honesty in learning relationships with our peers. 

Mindfulness is being aware of our thoughts, our reactions, our emotions, and our physical state. By being mindful, we are able to take a moment to understand the situation in front of us. 

Here are a couple of ways to practice mindfulness: 

5–2–5 Breathing

Never underestimate the power of a breath, especially when working with kids and adults. Take a deep breath in for 5 seconds, hold it for 2, and then breathe out deeply for 5 seconds. Repeat. Taking a deep breath like this allows us to create a sustained calm and lowers anxiety.

Identify Feelings

It is important to pause and get curious about the emotions we are feeling. Kids—and, let’s be honest, even adults—have a hard time identifying emotions, and it is really important to explicitly teach how to identify our feelings. With kids, the bursts of anger tend to be called tantrums, but with adults we see the same kind of burst of anger from burying deep emotions that will all of a sudden explode. Brené Brown calls this “chandeliering” because it is as if some sort of trigger pushes the person to rage straight up to the chandelier. Spending a moment to say, “I am feeling ______ because ______,” helps us to identify the feeling and the “why” behind it. By simply identifying the feeling and acknowledging it, we are able to give it a name and understand why we are suddenly having strong emotions.

In addition to improving our own emotional intelligence in order to build better relationships with our peers, we can also improve our practice in collaboration with peers. The next time you plan a meeting or professional learning experience with peers, consider how social and emotional practices can be integrated throughout in meaningful ways. For ideas, check out CASEL’s video, SEL 3 Signature Practices: Adult SEL.

Learning About SEL from the World – #AdultSEL

It might seem counterintuitive to talk about social media as an opportunity to grow your emotional intelligence, but when used with intention and critical thinking, social media has a tremendous amount to offer in personal growth. Even if you are not ready to sign up for an account, consider going to and searching with hashtags like #AdultSEL#SEL, and #EmotionsMatter. You don’t need to join Twitter to search Twitter! 

Other educators and educator groups online can prove to be an unbelievably supportive resource, and make a sometimes ‘lonely’ profession feel like a collaborative community. You will always be able to find sympathetic and like-minded people for however you feel in the moment- good OR bad. Seek out the POSITIVE! 

Social Media Pro Tip: 

DON’T use social media to compare yourself to others. This is a real problem for the emotional health of adults and kids. When we see an edited, highly-curated version of someone else, it is easy to get a “comparison hangover”. 

DO use social media to compare your current practice to previous practices you shared with your learning community so that you can concentrate on how you have grown as a professional. 

Continually Improve in SEL Through Cycles of Inquiry

Use the Cycle of Inquiry model from our book Evolving Learner to continue the development of your own social-emotional learning.

Cycles of inquiry are everywhere when you start looking for them. Jay Shetty, a former monk turned storyteller, encourages us to “spot, stop, and swap” negative thoughts and you can see that this is actually a cycle of inquiry for regulating emotions. What action words above align to “spot, stop, and swap”? 

As educators moving forward in continuous improvement of our own emotional intelligence, we need support and practice to improve. Learning from kids, peers, and the world gives us the social and emotional support to be strong enough to be vulnerable. A cycle of inquiry provides a structure to challenge our beliefs through action research. The two combined give us the capacity to learn, unlearn, and relearn as needed. 

How will you start to improve today? What is your focus? How will you learn, revise, and reflect?  We would love to hear about it! #EvolvingLearner

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