Social and Emotional Learning: 5 Tips for Better Decision Making

One strand of social-emotional learning involves decision-making skills. Children learn to make good choices in a series of stages, and teachers can facilitate the process in the classroom. Helping children develop strong decision-making skills will give them an important ability that will help them throughout their entire lives. Follow these 5 tips to teach your students better decision making.

Let Children Make Choices

In many schools, the teacher makes all of the choices in the classroom in an effort to maintain order and organization. Letting the children make choices will give them a sense of responsibility and help them learn how to make good choices. Make sure you are happy with all of the options you provide, so you do not need to negate their decision if they choose a certain avenue. Going against their decision would make the child lose confidence in their ability to make choices, seriously hindering the development of their social and emotional learning. Show enthusiasm for their decision so that they can begin feeling more confident making their own choices.

Discuss Everyday Decisions with the Children

Develop SEL by discussing some decisions that you make everyday with the children. Bring up a simple choice that you make and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each option so that the children can learn how to have those thoughts when they are making a choice.

Teach Them Decision-Making Steps

Along with discussing your own decisions with them, you can teach children certain steps to aid in their decision-making. Teach them to identify the decision that needs to be made, think about what their options are, evaluate the different options, make a choice, and act on that decision to see how it works. Accentuating these steps may seem redundant, but it will help them thoughtfully make decisions and develop social and emotional learning skills.

Ask Open-Ended Questions to Promote Thoughtful Decision-Making

After the children have made a choice, ask open-ended questions that encourage them to think about why they chose that option. Questions like “How do you like that?” are a good way to get their minds going. Pushing them to discuss their decision out loud will force them to understand why they made their decision, what the consequences were, and how they can improve their decision-making the next time they are faced with a choice.

Encourage Them to Set Goals That They Can Achieve

Setting goals is always a good activity to incorporate into teaching. Having children set an achievable goal will help them think through the decisions they make in an effort to achieve the goal. A vital part of having them set goals is that they are able to fulfill them. Failing to meet a goal will damage a child’s confidence and make them question many of the things that they learned in the process. Make sure to vocally and enthusiastically support them as they take steps to get closer to achieving their goal. If they can become excited about the process, they will feel more motivated to make good decisions to reach their goal.

How Does My School See Social Emotional Learning?

Incorporating social emotional learning (SEL) into schools is becoming a major point of discussion in education. SEL is proven to help students create relationships, learn, and develop skills that are necessary for them to succeed later in life. Many people believe that SEL is a vital part of a student’s learning and that schools should include it in their curriculum. However, many schools are still not setting aside space for SEL in the school system. In order to understand the future of SEL in schools, it is important to know how school officials see SEL and why it is not being implemented in school curriculums.


Among teachers, there are 3 general categories that most fall into regarding their opinions about SEL. The first is a teacher who is supportive of incorporating SEL and believes that most of their school is also in support. The second type is a teacher who is personally supportive of SEL but believes that the majority of their school district does not share those views and does not feel a push to include it in their classroom. The third category involves a teacher who does not feel comfortable teaching SEL in the classroom but wants to do all that they can to improve the learning environment for students and acknowledges that social emotional skills are a valuable aspect of a student’s educational experience.

All three categories describe teachers who are generally supportive of SEL in the classroom. The main differences between the 3 were whether the teacher felt that their school supported them teaching SEL and whether they personally felt confident enough to teach social emotional skills.


The viewpoint on SEL among school principals was similar to teachers. A study for CASEL conducted in March 2017 revealed that, while the vast majority of principals are in support of teaching students social emotional skills, 83% of them do not know how they would incorporate that into their school.

Due to the confusion about how to teach social emotional skills, only one-third of principals have plans to include SEL learning in their school. There is widespread interest in incorporating SEL, but limited knowledge about how to effectively do it.

Other Factors for Incorporating SEL in Schools

One of the largest factors in whether schools are going to incorporate SEL is district leadership. Only 40% of principals reported that their district required all schools to have a plan for teaching social emotional skills. In order to be able to teach SEL, teachers need to be shown how to appropriately implement social emotional skills in their classroom. They also need certain resources. Teachers can only receive the knowledge and resources that SEL requires if they have district leadership actively focusing on how to best teach students social emotional skills.

The report for CASEL revealed that schools that have more people actively implementing SEL are more successful in helping the students develop social emotional skills. Principals and school
administrators, teachers, and counselors overwhelmingly engage in developing social emotional skills, but many other school officials are not as actively focusing on it, hindering the school’s ability to fully and successfully implement SEL into a student’s education.

Why High Schools Should Be Teaching Life Skills

Most of what curriculum covers throughout school focuses on academic information, with very few opportunities for students to focus on developing cognitive life skills. A primary purpose of high school is to prepare students for college or other further studies, but successful young adults must also perform in real-world situations. Positive thinking courses in high school can provide them with the tools for lifelong personal and professional achievement.

Math Isn’t Money Management

Students need math, algebra and geometry, but that doesn’t teach them skills for financial success. Even courses like finance and accounting focus more on theory than developing basic money skills.

Students finish high school and start adulthood without knowing how to create a budget, balance a checkbook, read bank statements or plan for saving. They often say they’re interested in investing, but they don’t know how the stock market works. They know bad credit should be avoided, but they aren’t sure what steps they can take to build good credit or how that impacts things like insurance rates and auto loans.

Mental Illness Is Extremely Prevalent

A report on the state of mental health in America estimates one in five adults has a mental health condition. Youth depression is getting worse every year and 80 percent of depressed teens receive little or no treatment. Students don’t understand conditions like ADHD, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia, and their lack of understanding keeps those with mental illness from seeking help. If students had regular instruction on mental illness as part of required learning, they could learn to better recognize it and have compassion for those experiencing it.

Manners Still Matter

Students finish school and enter the workplace with no idea how to behave in a professional setting. Communication breaks down because they don’t have guidelines for sending an email to co-workers and superiors or what type of behavior is polite. Classes should teach how to respond appropriately in a range of situations to instruct students on common etiquette.

Cooking Is Good for the Soul

Many children grow up eating food handed to them through a drive-through window. They may have working parents who don’t have time to cook or who never learned themselves. Part of the reason for the obesity epidemic is a large portion of the population doesn’t know how to prepare healthy meals. Basic cooking skills help improve health, save money and create positive family interactions.

Good Time Management Creates Balance

Many people live under extreme stress because they feel they can’t accomplish all the tasks for which they’re responsible. Time management doesn’t just involve squeezing the most productivity out of every minute, it helps allocate time for enjoyment.

Students have access to technology that allows them to stay self-disciplined, organize priorities and locate resources for relaxation. Life skills curriculum can point out the need for good time management and help students find tools for making it a habit.

Schools face an ongoing challenge when it comes to equipping tomorrow’s workforce. High schools can prepare students for success by giving them the skills they need to become productive adults.

How to Teach Social-Emotional Learning

Educators and administrators are still discovering what the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means for schools, but most agree one change is positive for children. ESSA prioritizes social-emotional learning as critical to helping students develop the skills they need for success. Whether you’re developing a life skills curriculum or planning for the year ahead, teaching cognitive life skills will play a major role. Learn the core components of social-emotional learning (SEL) and how to bring positive thinking courses into the classroom today.

Social-Emotional Learning Competencies

There are five components of SEL that can be integrated into almost every lesson.

  • Self-awareness – Students should gradually develop the skills necessary to identify their own thoughts, emotions, strengths and values. Doing so promotes self-confidence and a growth mindset.
  • Self-management – Children can learn to not just monitor, but regulate their feelings to control impulses, manage stress and develop healthy habits.
  • Social awareness – This competency focuses on developing empathy, showing respect and valuing diversity.
  • Relationship skills – Students learn to communicate, work together in teams and respond appropriately in social situations.
  • Decision-making – Children begin to respond to decisions by identifying problems, evaluating their options and taking responsibility for their own well-being.

6 SEL Teaching Tips

It sounds like a monumental task, but teachers don’t choose education because it’s easy. Approach social-emotional learning the same way you succeed at other subject matter, by working systematically toward your goal.

Start each day with an emotion check. Greet each student warmly as they arrive and invite them to identify how they feel. Early elementary students might refer to a chart with illustrations, and teachers can prompt older children to exchange the usual “happy” or “sad” for synonyms.

Use read-alouds to introduce social-emotional themes. Carla’s Sandwich is available free through Storyline Online and uses descriptive words to teach self-awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. The Orange Shoes is a touching story children of all ages will enjoy as they learn social awareness.

Explicitly teach teamwork skills. Children frequently hear they should listen to others, share, and be thoughtful, but they may not know what that looks like in an educational setting. Negotiation and compromise are skills you can teach. Give students plenty of chances to work with partners for a strong classroom community.

Cultivate self-awareness through mindfulness. Human beings in general stay so busy they often don’t evaluate their own physical and emotional condition. Mindfulness involves pausing to turn thoughts inward and become aware without passing judgment. Prompt students daily to spend a few minutes noticing their breath, thoughts, emotions and the physical sensations they experience.

Let them take a break. Part of developing balance involves knowing when stress is reaching critical levels and having the ability to walk away. Create a place where students can regroup when they feel overwhelmed. Offer headphones that block noise, a journal or drawing pad and a comfortable space to find calm.

Close each day by allowing a few students to reflect on what they experienced during the day. Point out examples of optimism, self-control and good decision-making and encourage students to do the same.

Where’d the Grit and Resilience Go?

How familiar does this sentiment sound? Kids nowadays, they just seem so fragile and lack the grit and resilience of predecessors. What happened? Some may say, “Kids are too coddled” (maybe). Others may say, “The education system (K-12) doesn’t prepare students enough for college and the workforce.” We could list factors for days, but let’s look into two main factors and — most importantly — a solution.

After Effects of the Economic Recession:

Although the economic recession was almost a decade ago, the effects of losing jobs, homes, retirement, and lifestyle changes are partly seen on the current generation of high schoolers. Parents are extra sensitive to making sure their children have the perfect resume for college applications and thus can become overbearing and coddling. Thoughts such as, “Is my kid taking advantage of every opportunity, sports, music, volunteer gig?” are constantly on their mind. As parents perceive an ever-increasing competitive landscape and the margin for error appearing limited, they “take over” for their kids. This has only encouraged more parents to follow suit due to the perceived competitive landscape. The pressure to have a picture-perfect resume can become overwhelming and cause anxiety in not only the parent but also the child. That being said, who can really blame parents for being excessively-concerned for their children? Losing jobs, homes, and security due to the recession can cause such anxiety.

What Do You Mean I Need to be More Resilient?

When a student is told, “You need to be more resilient,” what exactly does that mean? Does that mean, grow a backbone, suck it up, or simply not to take criticism personally? Oftentimes, the case is the latter, but because students often see the word resilient as a synonym for strength, they therefore feel that lacking resilience is a sign of weakness. Students are dealing with increasing prospective college tuition fees, increasing competition, and — unlike previous generations — pressures from social media. Add to the fact that high schoolers are developing their communication skills, the message, “You need to be more resilient” leads to even more inner-turmoil.

The Solution? Positive Thinking Skills.

Let’s face it, academic, extracurricular, and social pressures are at an all-time high. Thus we need to provide a more mentor-like role in assisting kids to alleviate these issues. Simply saying, “Be more resilient, or toughen up” isn’t going to cut it — kids already hear enough words on social media anyway.  Instead, spend time with the kids to learn how to alleviate the stress of demanding classes and tests, the hurtful comments left on their Facebook wall, or simply not feeling good enough.

With these issues in mind, Education Lifeskills has created a Positive Thinking Skills course that help students successfully navigate their teenage years into adulthood. The course addresses many common thinking errors associated with anger, low self-esteem, and self-justification.

Infinity – Media Awareness Course: Helping Students Avoid Technology Addictions

Technology can be a good resource or it can turn into an addiction. Today’s students are surrounded by technology in each classroom , it is nearly impossible for a student to avoid the internet on their campus. It has been reported that teenagers are spending, on average, 9 hours a day with some type of media and most of that time is used with some type of screen.

Education Lifeskill’s Infinity – Media Awareness Course helps students increase their awareness and responsibility regarding their personal media consumption. The course addresses gaming addictions, cyber-bullying, social media addiction and the dangers of sexting. The stories and examples in this course put the student at a point of choice through the time-tested technique of cognitive dissonance.

We recognize that students need core curriculum, however, internet and media addictions are limiting today’s students academic and personal success. This is a timely course that is designed for junior high and high school students.

Visit Us At The CEC 2017 Convention In Boston

Education Lifeskills will be attending the CEC Convention & Expo as an exhibitor. This conference will be held between April 19-22 in Boston, MA at the John B Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. We will be located at booth 605 in the exhibit hall and will have both our printed and eLearning courses on display.

This conference brings together educators, providers, policy makers and key stake holders that are focused on increasing outcomes for special needs students. This focus includes those students who exhibit at risk thoughts and behaviors.

Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with us and learn how or 40 years of experience in developing and delivery evidence-based cognitive life skills courses and programs can assist the students at your campus can achieve greater personal and academic success.