Why Does SEL Matter?

Why Does SEL Matter?

By Guest Blogger: Renee G. Carr, EdD

Students need to learn how to have effective and positive relationships, perseverance, and well-being for their own success. Students need motivation, effective decision-making, and self-management to achieve high results. Previously teachers were not expected to cover such non-academic topics, but now it is more important than ever for student success. Once referred to as “non-academic” skills, these social-emotional traits are the skills that allow individual students to achieve high results both in the classroom and in life.

The Collaboration on Academic and Social-Emotional Learning (CASEL)’s SEL competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. SEL stems from emotional intelligence theory or the understanding of one’s own emotions and others and how to best regulate emotions.

Use of SEL in the Classroom

For SEL to be effective in the classroom, it is important to set norms at beginning of the year to instill success all year long. This classroom norming can occur through a class contract or agreed-upon class rules at the beginning of the year. In classes, a discussion of ways in which students and the teacher can support each other from the beginning in case these issues come up during the year. Teachers can post an example of rules and ask students to use positive language.

Another example of effective classroom norming is to ask students to write an essay in English or in target language in advanced classes. Teachers ask students what they want their teachers to know about them, what they want to learn, and their expectations for the course. Educators can have them reread the essays at the end of the year to see if expectations are met.

For a positive environment to fully take hold, the teacher focuses on inclusion to foster relationships amongst peers and between the teacher and students. Group work and partner work foster those relationships in class. If someone does not have a partner, teachers can assign them one or a group, so no one is left out. Sometimes teachers participate in the activity as a student to model behavior and learning.

Review is a powerful tool in any classroom. Review allows students to transfer new knowledge and skills from short-term to long-term memory, and then keep it there. The more valuable or complex the information is, the more effort we need to put in. Giving plenty of time to review helps build student confidence. Review activities include jotting down what vocabulary words they can remember per each category we have studied. Teachers also have students do station reviews where they move around to various stations in groups focusing on topics we have recently studied.

Seek Feedback

At the mid-point of the year, after Winter Break, students can complete a goal-setting worksheet for the new year, and teachers can ask them for some feedback. Below are the sample questions to ask classes. Teachers can incorporate the feedback into their lessons and lesson planning.

  • Do you feel that the goals for learning are clearly communicated to you?
  • Do you know the purpose of our lessons?
  • Are procedures and instruction easily understood?
  • Is new instruction connected to prior lessons?

When teachers use the survey data to reach students, it shows that teachers are listening and that they take student voice into account. It is an essential part of effectively engaging with students. Engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills, and promotes meaningful learning experiences. Students need a variety of activities to keep engaged. It helps to change them every 15 minutes to do about five activities per hour and a half class.

Provide multiple explanations in a variety of ways to reach the most students possible. Students enjoy interactive games like charades, Pictionary, card games, Monopoly in the target language, hangman, and bingo in person. In virtual and hybrid settings, they enjoy Quizziz, Quizlet Live, Kahoot, Blooket, Edpuzzle, Pear Deck, Nearpod, and more.

Cultural Context

Cultural Context is a vital component of any classroom. Culture is central to how we think, live, and see the world. Understanding students’ cultural socializations is critical to understanding how identity can contribute to a sense of belonging. A culturally responsive approach is important to bridging the gap. It is beneficial for teachers to understand the perspectives and expectations of their students so that they can tailor their lesson planning and activities in culturally aware ways. Teachers can ask students from various cultural backgrounds for support when explaining new concepts.

Renee G. Carr, EdD

Professional Development Specialist

Web: Dr. Renee Carr





Renee G. Carr, EdD has been working in education and related programmatic work since 2007. She is multilingual: she speaks Modern Greek, French, and Spanish. Dr. Carr has worked at a university, a government contractor, non-profits, associations, and two school districts in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Carr’s areas of expertise include social-emotional learning, international exchange, and world languages. She has a background in educational research including qualitative coding, case studies, literature reviews, and project management. She has presented at conferences and shared research findings with peers in her field. She recently wrote a book for the publisher Rowman & Littlefield called Accountability in the Classroom: Using Social-Emotional Learning to Guide School Improvement. The premise of this book came from her dissertation topic, social-emotional learning, and school accountability systems. She added her own experiences as an educator both from the perspectives of World Language education and the COVID-19 crisis. Dr. Carr received her EdD from the George Washington University in 2019 and her MA in Political Science in 2009 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She obtained her BA in French and International Studies in 2007 from the University of Washington.


Dr. Carr’s book:

Is Your Glass Half-Filled or Refillable?

Is Your Glass Half-Filled or Refillable?

By Guest Blogger: Ilene Winokur, Ed.D.

We often hear about people who either believe the glass is half empty or half full. Have you ever heard that the glass can be refilled? How does changing our perception from a deficit mindset (glass half-empty) to an asset-based mindset (glass can be refilled) improve how we perceive our students and how they perceive themselves? 

A Deficit-Based Mindset

A few years ago, I was presenting at a private school in Kuwait. The language medium was English and the majority of students were Kuwaiti nationals whose first language is Arabic. I have often encountered a deficit mindset about language learners, so after introducing myself, I started the session with this query: “Raise your hand if you know the stages of second language acquisition.” Of the 100 or so teachers in the room, only three raised their hands. Although I wasn’t surprised, it disappointed me because teachers who don’t have an understanding of how long it takes to learn a new language often become impatient with the slow process of learning. They don’t realize that most students are taking the time they need to express themselves in the target language. This leads to a deficit-based mindset which impacts how students think of themselves as learners.

Cultivating Growth Mindset Skills

Lowering our expectations of students influences how they think of themselves. I received poor grades in art class throughout my school experience. This led me to believe I was not a creative person. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized creativity isn’t just knowing how to draw. Currently, one of the most important skills requested by employers and necessary for career success is creativity (Forbes, 2019). These skills can be cultivated in our children by helping them understand the design thinking process which can be learned through projects, for example. 

So how can teachers and parents ensure children have a growth mindset? Here are five ways teachers and parents can help children grow their self-belonging (self-worth, -efficacy, -esteem, -confidence) with positive self-talk to help children become more confident learners.

5 Ways to Help Grow Self-Belonging

    1. Don’t water down the content or lower expectations. Scaffold lessons, plan carefully, and help children learn the skills needed to overcome the gaps in their learning.
    2. Spend time on finding out, then focusing on each child’s strengths (I call them superpowers). When opportunities arise to use their superpowers, notice them and celebrate how they used them to overcome challenges.
    3. Build resilience and perseverance in children by using literature or real-life examples from their own lives or others.
    4. Create a safe environment so children feel comfortable sharing their stories, thoughts, and dreams. They will feel validated and valued.
    5. Children who have an opportunity to use their voices and make choices become empowered learners. Voice and choice should be built into their daily lives in school and at home.

Although it’s important to know when students have gaps in their learning, emphasizing the “lack of” instead of focusing on their superpowers can have a long-lasting negative impact on their self-image and their self-perception.


Ilene Winokur, Ed.D.

Professional Development Specialist




Dr. Ilene Winokur has lived in Kuwait since 1984 and is a professional development specialist supporting teachers globally including refugee teachers. Prior to retiring in 2019, she was a teacher and administrator for 25 years. Her blog, podcast, and upcoming book focus on the importance of feeling a sense of belonging. You can connect with Ilene on Twitter and find links to her podcast and blog on her website.


Additional Resource from Ilene:

Coming in November!

Coming in November!

Starting in November, we’re featuring a weekly resource with discussion questions related to social and emotional learning (SEL) and growth mindset. If you sign up by email, you’ll receive the content in your inbox each week. But if you miss one, no worries! We’ll share them all on our blog too.

Featuring one of our 30 affirmations each week, we will send questions or thoughtful reflection related to the five core competencies of SEL. We hope to spark discussion with your students as you select from the options and incorporate them into your classroom learning. It will be easy to pick and choose the questions that work best for your students.

You’ll want to get your Inspired Minds products ordered so that you’re all set for each week of discussion. For the virtual classroom, the postcard size is perfect for holding up to a screen. Or for in-person discussion, we recommend the poster size.

New Health Series Posters

New Health Series Posters

We’ve added a new product line!

These posters are perfect for promoting health awareness and encouraging conversation about hand-washing. A set of 5 posters, each printed on 11×14 card stock.



This activity works with the Inspired Minds postcards, magnets, or hand-off notes and is a way of inspiring creative thinking as well as promoting social-emotional learning in the classroom. Have a station in the classroom set up with a box or jar of the cards. As a time filler or for an activity if students finish early on a project, they could head to the Think-Pair-Share station. At this station, each student draws one card from the jar. Using that title, they complete a think-pair-share sheet. On the provided downloadable sheet (see below), students may write how this affirmation relates to them or makes them feel. They could also write a poem or draw a picture that represents how it relates to them.

When another student enters the station, students pick a friend to share their creation with.

Download free worksheet for Think-Pair-Share



Classroom Writing Prompts for Multi-Age Students

Classroom Writing Prompts for Multi-Age Students

We’ve designed the Inspired Minds products to instill positive thinking in students. One way to interact with the 30 statements is to provide students with an opportunity to write their thoughts about how an affirmation applies to them personally. The goal is for students to build a growth mindset as they think about the concepts and also to grow their social-emotional learning as they think about how it applies to their own behavior. Certain affirmations would also lend themselves to writing about how to include others who are different from themselves.

One way of using the posters is to put one poster on the the board in front of the classroom and then allow students to journal using a writing prompt. For example:

Writing prompt: Think about a time when you quit trying or gave up. Now, write an imaginary story of how it might have turned out if you hadn’t quit.

We have created a free document that has ideas for a writing prompt to go with each of the posters. Get 30 printable writing prompts by email

Ways to use the affirmations for writing:

  • Have all students write about the same affirmation, as given in the example above.
  • Use one affirmation, but let students free write about what comes to mind when they see that statement.
  • Have students write about what they would tell themselves as if they were writing it to another student (using a second person point of view).
  • For older students, they could do a video journal to practice presentation skills instead of a writing activity. Using the same writing prompt, they would video their response.
  • For creative writing, have students write a story about a character who displays the quality of the affirmation of the day. For example, a character who never gives up.

Additional ideas for various ages:

  • Have each student pick a title they relate to and use it as a brief writing prompt. This works well with the hand-off notes, magnets, or postcards, since they could choose one and take it to their own desk.
  • Writing could be a great way to begin or end class. It helps to keep students engaged and fill time purposefully until class is dismissed.
  • For older students, use the writing activity during finals weeks before other tests, presentations, or big projects that might cause some students high levels of stress. Having them individually journal about their feelings and ending with an affirmation could definitely increase their confidence.