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How SEL and Mental Health Supports can be Incorporated into Daily Learning

According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, the mental health of students have suffered as a result of physical distancing and isolation, lack of routines, and other recent and past traumatic stressors. Now more than ever, it is imperative that the mental health needs of students not only be addressed, but prioritized. The information in this module has been developed to provide flexible, evidence-based guidance for districts and schools to consider as they develop plans for the upcoming school year.

What the Research Says

Research has shown that strong, supportive and sustained relationships with adults in schools consistently predict students’ capacity for resilient behavior, even in the face of traumatic experiences.  Social and emotional learning (SEL) teaches children and adults to identify and manage their thoughts, emotions and behaviors to maintain positive and healthy lifestyles (CASEL, 2020). In the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Roadmap report published by CASEL, experts found that SEL provides an important foundation for supporting students and adults who are enduring situations of significant uncertainty and stress, ultimately creating long-term pathways toward healthy, thriving school communities (CASEL, 2020). The report further maintains that when students learn SEL skills, their emotional intelligence grows and leads to better mental health, more classroom engagement, stronger decision-making and healthier relationships. These skills in turn create schools with safer, more caring and more effective environments (CASEL. 2020).

As result of the pandemic, many students are facing a multitude of traumatic stressors – the illness or loss of friends or family, child abuse, and food and income insecurities to name a few. For specific demography groups, the aforementioned stressors have been further exacerbated. Social and emotional learning helps to support student mental health needs by fostering a sense of safety and security, building positive relationships with others, and providing equitable support to learning. The combined impact, according to CASEL, is a strengthened school community. It is more important than ever to remember that students must “Maslow before they can Bloom.” This means that their basic needs—food, rest, emotional safety, and sense of belonging—must be met before learning can occur. It is important to note that they do not need to be met in ascending order as previously believe, but just met. This hierarchy of needs applies equally to adults in the school setting. Social and emotional learning and mental health are strengthened with a combined approach of building relationships with students and caring for the well-being of everyone in the school community.

Designing for Equity

Students with unique experiences and needs represent a particularly vulnerable population during a crisis. To ensure all students feel supported, be sensitive to cultural and language differences, medical needs and other issues that may make them feel isolated or marginalized. Schools are often places where students feel safe and make connections to trusted adults like teachers, coaches and staff. When educators have individual conversations with students, they should make sure students can identify at least one trusted adult in their life. This sample needs assessment can be adapted by districts and schools to help determine students’ needs. When developing resources, consider using multiple formats and the home language of students’ families.


■ Administrators play an important role in supporting student and adult social and emotional learning and mental health. In order to cultivate student well-being, adults in the school must also feel supported, valued and cared for. Consider reviewing and enacting the Social and Emotional Well-Being Quality Assessments and Screeners for Educators to support staff members engaged in summer learning.

■ Educators and caregivers who support students should consider their own self-care and can access resources, including: Self-Care for Teachers and Educational Professionals, Mindful Practices Self-Care Strategies and Emotional Intelligence, and Creating a Self-Care Plan.

■ Family and caregivers will spend the majority of time with students over the summer and can help cultivate student SEL and mental health during the traditional school year. Resources like a PBS video series, social emotional activities, SEL books for children and adults, cultivating mindfulness videos and this SEL podcast for children and adults could be shared with families and caregivers.

■ Districts and schools can prioritize adult SEL and self-care by providing time for adult learning, collaboration and modeling in the five core SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

■ SEL should be integrated throughout the academic day to ensure continuous practice of social, emotional and behavioral skills.  


■ Schools need comprehensive SEL and mental health programs to meet students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.

■ It takes a collaborative approach to meet the SEL and mental health needs of students. Therefore, SEL should be incorporated in the daily practices and all aspects of the school. 

■ Providing equitable access to SEL and mental health resources that consider students’ race and ethnicity, language, developmental level, and background is vital for student success and well-being.

■ Implementing systemic SEL is not a one-time process; practices should be monitored, reviewed, and evaluated for effectiveness and sustainability. Use implementation and outcome data to continuously improve all SEL-related systems, practices, and policies with a focus on equity.

Reflection Questions:

1. How will you incorporate social emotional learning into your instructional practices? 

2. How will conducting or using a needs assessment inventory benefit planning?

3. How will you utilize health professionals in your building to support students social emotional health? 


Note: The contents of this page was created through collaboration with the Oklahoma Department of Education, National Alliance of Mental Health, CASEL. and PBS Learning Media.

Next Module: How can school and community partnerships support the mental health needs of all students?