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Social Emotional Learning

10 signs you’re doing SEL right

SEL is transformative—here’s what to look for to know if your approach is working

Teachers, school counselors, and school leaders impact student social-emotional learning (SEL) to the degree that they transform each student’s mindset by empowering the self of the student.

SEL is more than simple observable changes in behavior or short-term boosts to motivation. Student SEL is the process of deep change—changing beliefs, assumptions, and paradigms of reality. For example, SEL is going from “no hope” to “hope,” from resignation to having dreams and a passion to pursue new possibilities, from anxiety and depression to inner peace and happiness.

Related: 5 ways we develop SEL in our schools

When K-12 educators use SEL best practices and methods, they can produce transformational results in school-aged children and adolescents. The focus of this article is not on these methods, but instead on how to understand if you are indeed using SEL effectively and achieving your vision and expectations for SEL.

Teachers, counselors, and leaders can see that their efforts are making a difference in SEL when their K-12 students:
1. Experience a shift in their way of being in the world to become more at ease and less anxious.
2. Learn to create the life that they really want, not merely because something is a good idea or influenced by others.
3. Take full responsibility for their actions and the quality of their life; they stop blaming others for their circumstances.
4. Experience a new level of authentic self-expression.
5. Strengthen their sense of self agency and locus of control.
6. Learn to produce results that are aligned with their own sense of purpose and vision.
7. Learn to take responsibility for their own emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.
8. Learn how to enjoy the challenges inherent in taking initiative.
9. Are happy, fully alive, and turned on to life!
10. Learn that they are powerful and make a positive difference in the world.

Students of all ages can begin to demonstrate these transformative SEL qualities if educators listen for them.

One of our high school students wrote a year-end thank-you note that is remarkable in the way it indicates transformative SEL.

She wrote, “The way I think of it you are an angel sent down to help both myself and many others to help us realize that we too can make a difference. However the thing I admire about you most is your unique way in which you talk to each and every student. The other day as I was walking by I saw you talking to a young man. I’m not sure what you said to him; however when you were done he had a sparkle in his eyes. It was a sparkle of hope and realization that he was special, and that experience made me realize that you have a very special gift, and I was fortunate enough to receive the gift at such an early age. I have finally found my purpose and potential in life, and I can’t wait to make it a reality. . . . I’ll do my best to carry on and pass on all of the wonderful things you’ve taught me.”

There are numerous phrases in the student’s note that indicate SEL transformations. The student realizes she herself can make a difference, which indicates self agency and a dream for her future. She also sees and recognizes the importance of self-esteem to the happiness of a fellow student. She wants to pass on what she has learned, which indicates that she wants to take on responsibility to impact the world. Letters such as these are concrete evidence that you are transforming your students.

Teachers teach and counselors guide so as to impact the lives of young people in their care. Using SEL transforms lives—fundamentally and for the long term.

Congratulations if you have received communications or have taken note of student actions that reflect transformative learning. Thank you for your dedication, focus and skill.

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