Ten classroom strategies for a whole school approach for teaching social-emotional skills and personal development across the curricula, from Dr Leila Khouja Walker.

Just imagine the cumulative impact on our students if all teachers started to integrate social-emotional learning more overtly into their everyday routine.

Whether you are a Citizenship teacher, PSHE lead, Maths teacher or a Modern Languages tutor, here are 10 classroom habits that will help get you started embedding social-emotional skills across the school curricula. For extra clarity, I’ve highlighted individual social-emotional skills so you can start to recognise them

1. Setting learning intentions

We are all well-versed in providing our students with lesson objectives. Why not add a social-emotional skill?

Setting intentions is associated with two key social-emotional skills: goal-setting and time management. Each time you set lesson objectives, you can remind your students of these skills.

Preparing students for a test, you could add these lesson intentions:

  • develop stress management strategies
  • manage feelings during test periods.

Check in with the students, acknowledging that tests can provoke anxiety. Remind them of tips that can help, for example, acknowledging thoughts and feelings that cause stress

2.Promoting peer-to-peer learning

Teachers know that dialogue between students helps new learning. Naming the social-emotional skills involved, such as active listening, processing information and empathy, and providing improvement strategies, will be much more impactful than tacit support.

You want to find out your students’ prior knowledge on a new topic. Use Kagan’s Timed, Shared, Pair to get students talking. Ask them to listen to one another for 30 seconds without interruption, then the ‘listener’ feeds back on what their peer said.

​3. Equipping with problem-solving strategies

Students often come into a lesson with misconceptions. As teachers, we are taught to challenge these through cognitive conflict, for example, during peer-to-peer learning. This is particularly effective due to the mental effort required.

Providing strategies for students to test their own hypotheses can move them towards more widely accepted theories. Social-emotional skills involved include creative thinking, critical thinking and effective teamwork, as well as communication skills.

To help students ‘build’ an idea, use “Yes, and…”:

  • Student A tells a classmate their idea.
  • Student B responds with “Yes, and…”, suggesting an improvement.
  • Then, Student A responds with “Yes, and…”.
  • Keep going until there are no more suggestions.

4. Increasing student agency

Many negatives came out of COVID-19, however, one positive reported by students was increased agency. Most students have now returned to physical school, and many are finding it difficult to conform.

Social-emotional skills are important for agency, including selfawareness, goal-setting and time management. Getting students to practise goal-setting in class will support their independent learning.

  • Identify steps required to achieve the goal.
  • Put steps in the order to be done.
  • Estimate time required.
  • Keep reminding yourself how you will feel when you achieve it.

5. Keeping them going

Mental effort is required to learn. That can be a tough sell. We need to arm students with the social-emotional skills of staying positive and perseverance.

Use some classroom time to allow students to practise strategies, so they see the benefits of digging deep. Psychologists sometimes call this ‘doing despite disliking’.

Perseverance requires a positive mindset:

  • Focus on positive consequences.
  • Regulate emotions – think of happy moments when things get tough.
  • Check your progress – reflect on what has been achieved.
  • Encourage them to picture the finish line.

6. Active listening

Active listening is essential in the classroom. It is a sign of respect and enables both teacher and student to process information before responding.

Sometimes, the teacher-student relationship is challenged. Learning to manage conflict and being willing to change are critical.

Proactively teach and model these tips:

  • Remain calm. Take a beat and breathe, if needed.
  • Treat the other person as you wish to be treated.
  • Be specific about your concerns and needs.
  • Use “I” statements rather than “you”.
  • Stick to the facts. Be honest and clear.

Use positive body language. Show you are actively listening

7. Improving student presentations

Presentations require speaking formally, as well as being adaptable.

Being adaptable is commonly reported as a desirable skill among employers. How you adapt to other people shows to what extent you are seeking a positive outcome both for yourself and them.

The following tips can help students improve their adaptability in a presentation:

  • Practise your presentation and ask for feedback.
  • Check the audience’s expectations in advance.
  • State your objectives at the start, and don’t get side-tracked.
  • Add a Q&A at the end to check you met your audience’s needs.
  • Reflect on feedback for next time.

8. Preparing for tests

Most students feel anxious about exams. Learning how to manage emotions is important if they are to do their best. The social-emotional skills required are wide-ranging, including stress management, goal-setting, time management and perseverance.

Finding lesson time to focus on these skills will pay off in final outcomes, as you equip students with a toolkit to help them perform.

  • Create a revision schedule for time and stress management
  • Be realistic
  • Seek help when needed
  • Adopt varied approaches to revision.

9. Developing a growth mindset

A fixed mindset means you believe intelligence, talent and other qualities cannot be changed. By contrast, a growth mindset means you believe these attributes can be developed with practice and effort.

Mindset plays a major role in motivation to learn, resilience to failure, and feelings of achievement. Social-emotional skills such as staying positive, perseverance and self-confidence are key. Many students need support to build their self-confidence.

  • Say kind things to yourself.
  • Acknowledge your achievements.
  • Seek positive alternatives to negative thoughts.
  • Avoid comparing yourself with others.
  • Change “I can’t” to “I’ve got this”.

10. Modelling behaviour

All teachers can benefit from developing their own social-emotional skills. Similar to the positive impact upon students, they have also been shown to improve wellbeing and performance for the teacher delivering the learning.

So let’s raise our selfawareness and start to walk the talk when it comes to social-emotional skills. Be mindful of when you are demonstrating a social-emotional skill and call it out. For example, if you are moving around the class during group work, tell the students you are actively listening into their discussions. It really is a win-win!

We must all play a part

Social-emotional skills are fundamental to positive, healthy relationships and to making learning effective. Schools that invest resources in social-emotional learning reap the rewards in terms of community cohesion, developing young citizens with agency and life skills, higher academic attainment and better future prospects.

We must all play a part in this. The cumulative impact of a whole school approach, where every classroom overtly supports social-emotional skills, is greater than the sum of its parts.


  • Dr Leila Khouja Walker

    Leila is an SEL expert and senior lecturer in education and childhood. As the co-founder of Persona Education, she is on a mission to boost students' personal development and wellbeing. She has a wide experience of R&D in technology for social benefit, and in teaching and educational research.
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