Is your SEL teaching SAFE?

Sarah, Teacher

Most people agree that it is important for young people to have trusting relationships, a sense of purpose and belonging, and to learn and practice the skills needed to work toward their goals and contribute to their communities. 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) can help create educational opportunities and environments that promote learning and practicing social, emotional, and academic skills; all of which are fundamental to healthy human development.

SEL can be a powerful lever for creating caring, just, inclusive, and healthy schools that support all young people in reaching their fullest potential.

 According to a meta-analysis of 213 rigorous studies of SEL in schools, students who received high-quality, evidence-based SEL programming demonstrated:

  • Better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive systematic SEL instruction.
  • Improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior.
  • Fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive behaviors, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals.
  • Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.

So what should we be doing as teachers to help support Social and Emotional Learning in our classrooms?

Effective SEL approaches often incorporate four elements represented by the acronym SAFE:

  • SEQUENCED: Connected and coordinated activities to foster skills development
  • ACTIVE: Employing active forms of learning to help students strengthen new skills
  • FOCUSED: Dedicated time and attention to developing personal and social skills
  • EXPLICIT: Targeting specific social and emotional skills

Using a tool like Ziplet allows you to apply these principles in a regular, structured way, as well as providing a safe space for students to respond away from their peers. 

So how might we use this in the classroom?

There are three key components to consider: a supportive classroom climate, integration of SEL into academic instruction, and explicit SEL instruction.


A supportive classroom climate

A supportive classroom climate helps students to feel emotionally safe, part of a community of learners, motivated, and challenged. This type of environment creates a strong foundation for students to engage fully and take academic risks. This includes: community-building, belonging, emotional safety, and student-centered discipline.

Some questions you can ask your students in Ziplet include:

  • What changes would you make to today's class if you were the teacher?
  • Do you feel your opinion is heard in this class?
  • If I were the teacher for the day, one change I would make would be…
  • How do you feel you are treated in this class?
  • It would be awesome if we did this in class…
  • Are you given opportunities to have your voice heard in this class?

Integration of SEL into academic instruction

Integration of SEL into academic instruction weaves academic learning with opportunities for students to practice and reflect on social and emotional competencies, such as perspective-taking and developing a growth mindset. For example, teachers might incorporate partner and group activities that promote relationships, communication skills, and effective teamwork.

Some questions you can ask your students in Ziplet include:

  • What's one thing you did well in class today?
  • Explain what you do when you do not understand a skill or concept you are learning.
  • What did you learn about working with others today?
  • What's one change you have made recently to become a better learner?
  • How did you problem solve when working with your team on this project?
  • What are some things you can do to be a good listener?

Explicit SEL Instruction

Explicit SEL instruction provides consistent opportunities to cultivate, practice, and reflect on social and emotional competencies in ways that are developmentally appropriate and culturally responsive.

Some questions you can ask your students in Ziplet include:

  • What does being a good community member mean to you?
  • Think of a good friend. What are their qualities?
  • How do you show kindness to yourself?
  • What are two things you could do to show kindness to others?
  • What makes a good team?
  • What are some things you can do to be a good listener?


Social and Emotional Learning has clear benefits for learning outcomes, and communities more broadly. As teachers we have a critical role to play in supporting students’ SEL. 

Teachers can apply a research-based approach that focuses on creating a supportive classroom environment, integrates SEL into academic instruction, and explicitly providing instruction for Social and Emotional Learning. 

Using a platform like Ziplet can help teachers get more authentic and engaged responses from their students, and act as a starting point for classroom discussion. 

For more ways to incorporate SEL in your classroom, check out the Lesson Ideas page.

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