Dear Lydia

I’m just gonna say it: I’ve been pretending to know what SEL is, means, or looks like. For years, every time I heard the term, I broke out in a cold-sweat and felt like I’m a teacher imposter.

No, but seriously. It seems like SEL means something different to everyone. Sometimes it’s about students getting to know themselves first. Sometimes it’s about watching for depression and anxiety. Sometimes it gets mixed in with social justice. Sometimes it seems to be a catch-all. How can I dig to the core of SEL and meaningfully apply that to my classroom? How can I help build well-rounded students in a way that is relevant and not corny?


Tired of Pretending

Dear Pretender, 

There’s no question about it, as the term “SEL” has popularized, the definition seems to have gotten lost. There are two main reasons for this. One group sees Social-Emotional Learning as a collection of core competencies, defined largely by a group called CASEL. A second group sees SEL as anything outside of traditional curriculum. 

CASEL has done amazing work to popularize SEL as an idea, but their model of teaching perhaps feels ambiguous or doesn’t show what meaningful application looks like. Here is how I like to break it down into four simple ideas that power an SEL application. First, students should be learning to think through the lens of others ― practicing empathy. Second, students should be exploring their own value and how to bring it forward to diverse settings and situations. Third, SEL should challenge students to apply their knowledge and ideas to real-world situations. And, lastly, meaningful SEL experiences should be powered by a desire to build win-win relationships. If we can check those four boxes, we’ll have built a really powerful classroom SEL experience. 

Our approach to teaching at Empowered incorporates these four ideas through our Foundational Principles. These eight Principles offer an infrastructure for sound decision-making in life, using known ideas to help students understand reciprocity, empathy, value-creation, and ethics as they engage in the world around them, both inside and outside the classroom. I suggest you give it a whirl and see if it helps give you the real-world edge you’re looking for in both understanding and implementing SEL in your classroom. 

Happy Teaching and Stay Empowered,

After years of teaching in the classroom, Lydia Hampton recognized her true calling was empowering teachers through curriculum design and professional development.