SEL Instructional Practices in Health Education: Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment

According to CASEL, social and emotional learning (SEL) is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Many would argue that health educators, nationwide, are leading the way in SEL … and have been for many years!

SHAPE America’s January #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat looked at instructional practices that health educators are using in their classrooms. We were lucky to have three amazing panelists who shared a lot of their SEL practices, as well as educators from around the country who joined in!

Here are some of the great ideas, tips and resources that were shared by our #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat panelists and chat participants:

Q1: When you think about #SEL, what comes to mind?

  • Teaching SEL benefits the “whole child.” Skills like regulating emotions, problem solving, responsible decision-making, and appropriate social interaction are useful now and in the future.
  • If a student is suffering with anxiety/depression/low self-worth, it’s hard to climb out of this if feeling uncared for and unseen by adults. It’s imperative our students learn these skills for their own well-being and to engage in school.
  • The flexible curriculum made from my book, Humanizing the Classroom, is a pretty clear graphic description of what I think SEL can encompass.
S E L Competencies Chart
  • In relation to health education, I think about the natural connections that exist between the five SEL competencies and the eight National Health Education Standards.
The S E L / H E Overlap Chart

Q2: What are some of the commonly integrated #SEL skills? Any suggestions on how an educator can develop those skills & competencies for all students?

  • Building in moments of mindfulness, meditation, or neutral reflection is an easy way to integrate self-management into any subject area. Like positive affirmations, they are easy to understand and implement. This can have drastic effects on classroom/school climate.
  • The SEL skill I focus on the most is communication skills: self-expression, negotiation, conflict resolution, refusal for skill building and mastery + rubrics check out these health education skills models and SHAPE America’s book, The Essentials of Teaching Health Education.
  • If a teacher wants to, they can integrate all of the SEL competencies in their classroom. Starting with basic activities can then lead to actual teaching of strategies and tools students can use to develop their SEL skills.
  • Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, decision-making. The SEL competencies and the eight National Health Education Standards overlap (see video).
  • We teach students all SEL competencies throughout the year. I show short videos of each, like this and this from @SteveHartmanCBS, which teaches “social awareness” (empathy, perspective). Then, they discuss, and finally demonstrate understanding through roleplay. Another video.
  • I reference many practical strategies that can be used in health and physical education in my SHAPE America blog post on SEL.

Q3: How should districts determine which #SEL skills to emphasize to ensure student success? 

  • First is for schools/districts to do a needs assessment. The National School Climate Center provides schools with a rich assessment tool for measuring school climate that provides school leaders with great detail.
  • Here is a guide for districts on measuring SEL and using data to inspire.
  • Like most initiatives, schools and districts need to determine the most pressing needs of their student population. In many cases, it makes sense to start with self-awareness and self-management before shifting to the other competencies.

Q4: How can #SEL initiatives in schools or districts help students grow academically? 

  • There is ample evidence that a positive school climate and positive classroom community have measurable effects on academic engagement and achievement. SEL initiatives are one of the most effective ways to shift school and classroom climate.
  • Programs like SHAPE America’s health. moves. minds. program can help bring the school together for a greater purpose — to help inspire healthy habits, fuel active minds, and teach kids to thrive physically and emotionally.
  • The phrase “academics” goes beyond classroom content knowledge. Most schools have vision or mission statements around the types of people they want their students to be when they graduate. SEL skills ARE academic skills, so growing them grows academics.
  • Many people will often say, “Maslow before Bloom!” I agree, but we have to be careful not to have it become “Maslow INSTEAD of Bloom.” This is why we need SEL to be integrated into school routines and structures, so they go hand in hand.

Q5: What concrete steps can you take to cultivate strong teacher-student relationships? 

  • Set aside time for individual meetings with students that take place 1-2 times a month. In addition, pedagogical skills of following student leads, giving students autonomy and leadership, and engaging in positive affirmations and compliments can also help relationships blossom.
  • Learn names quickly. I like to change seats often. I got rid of my desk, so I move around the classroom and sit and chat with my students. I like to greet every child at the door. Find out students’ interests/passions and try to strike a conversation about something they like.
Pause and React Infographic
  • I have students engaged in activities where not only I can learn about them, but they can learn about each other. I then jot down notes and use this knowledge to plan lessons that cater to their interests. (Ex: Dice Breaker by @MrClarkPE.)
  • Accountability is important, too. You can have high standards (and hold students to those standards) in a way that is still SEL positive. Show ALL students that they can achieve in your classroom, and that you’ll help them get there.

Q6: How important is it for an #educator to take steps to promote #SEL and mental well-being in the classroom? 

  • Students respond first and foremost to the tone and emotional demeanor of their teachers. The best thing a teacher can do to promote SEL in their classroom is to reflect on their own tone, discipline style, and emotional demeanor. Ask, “Am I inviting student engagement?”
  • Form a culture of learning relationships in the classroom. Ensure that students gain all the skills necessary to thrive in an ever-changing working world: cognitive skills, emotional skills and social/interpersonal skills.
  • In health ed, we often talk about loaded topics. This means all students need to feel mentally well in our classes. We need to teach in a way that is inclusive, culturally relevant, trauma informed, and focused on our NHES. We owe it to our students!
  • Model positive behaviors, showing humility and growth within oneself. During our mindfulness activities I always share that quieting my mind is the hardest skill I have ever tried.

Q7: How do we measure growth and mastery of SEL? 

  • The growth and mastery of SEL skills can be assessed through student and teacher behavior in the classroom and the school in general. Trained observers can assess the tone and interactions between teachers and students, and students and their peers.
  • The National School Climate Center has a useful measure for this work, and the CLASS assessment tool can also be used.
  • Being that many of the SEL competencies align with the NHES Standards, I use and recommend Health Education Skills Models
  • This comes back to having SEL objectives. (“You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.”) You could use checklists or more substantial rubrics. CASEL has a ton of research for school districts looking to develop their competencies.
  • Once you have objectives set, you can assess like you would any other standard. And by using the skill development model, students have opportunities to see it modeled, practice the skill, get feedback, and demonstrate proficiency.
  • Here’s a good video from the International Center for Leadership in Education on SEL with “Kernels.”
  • Similar to other subject areas, integrate standards-based assessments to measure growth. In physical education I see SHAPE America’s SEL/Standards Crosswalk. Also, see Assessing Social and Emotional Learning from Edutopia.
End of class S E L Integration Infographic

Q8: How can school districts ensure faculty and staff work on their own #SEL skills and provide a consistent experience for students across all disciplines?

  • Professional development in SEL! Educators need to serve as models of social-emotional skills and healthy relationships. A culture of relationships will help educators fine-tune their own social-emotional capacities and positive relationships with colleagues.
  • Some adults believe SEL is for students. The first challenge is to invite adults into the idea that SEL is a parallel process. Meaning, as we support students to develop new SEL skills we, as adults, will also be developing our own.
  • Using the WSCC model is helpful to ensure districts are on the same page. This can help align education and health to improve not only each child’s cognitive, physical, social and emotional development, but also the well-being of adults.

Q9: What are some strategies/ideas that parents can use to put SEL into practice at home?

  • Parents can implement “I Feel” messages at home to talk about difficult feelings and conflicts rather than engaging in accusation and fighting, which can dominate difficult family discussions. “I Feel” messages take the form of: I feel ___ when ___ because___.
  • Families can appoint a family member as a neutral mediator in family conflicts between members. A neutral mediator listens to each side of an argument, paraphrases each side, and asks open-ended questions to help people understand one another’s point of view.
  • Schools should consider hosting parent information sessions so they can (literally) speak the same SEL language with their students at home that they’ll hear at school. The guides listed here are helpful starting points.
  • As parents it essential to establish boundaries with technology and time. How do you want to spend your time with your family?
  • I share Class Dojo videos where students are practicing SEL skills in PE so parents can be informed and can help reinforce these concepts at home. I also share these resources with parents (from @foes4sports & @CoachFoe).

Many thanks to all the teachers who shared their knowledge and resources on this Twitter Chat!

Just log onto Twitter and follow the hashtag #SHAPEHealthEd to learn more about future chats! Here’s a link to the chat transcript.

Additional Resources

Chad Dauphin

Chad Dauphin is a health educator at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, where he served as associate athletic director from 2006-2017. He has presented at several state and national conferences on the topics of health education and athletics and served on the SHAPE America Health Education Council. Chad is currently chair of the #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat task force. He can be reached at