Back to School: SEL School Environment

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) can positively impact every member of a school community. Our restorative practices are effective tools for increasing, among other things, the equity, agency and social engagement of students. Here you’ll find tips for designing a school culture and climate that supports SEL for everyone.

Relationship Building

All staff in a school community have a significant impact on a student’s life. Each point of contact in the school environment represents an opportunity to exercise emotional intelligence. Therefore, investing in the support of school professionals will in turn empower those professionals to invest in supporting students, and have a significant impact on the whole school community.
Here are a handful of ways to put SEL principles into practice:
  • Create consistent greeting rituals: have staff greet students by name in entryways; create personalized hand gestures (COVID-safe handshakes) with students.
  • Keep supervision during transitions safe and playful. Accompany students to where they are going. If you see unsafe behavior, refer to a restorative practice instead of punishment.
  • Focus more on supporting unstructured time and engaging the students in ongoing decision-making. 
  • Create a school-wide community agreement and display it at the entrance. Have each teacher base a class on contributing to the agreement, considering, for example:
    • How do we learn/ work best?.
    • How can I create an environment that is _____ for myself?
    • How can I create an environment that is _____ for students?
    • How can I create an environment that is _____ for classmates?
  • Relationship Mapping: Link students with appropriate social supports, such as peer buddies and adult mentors.


Maintaining a balanced curriculum is critical, including ongoing physical education and other learning experiences alongside core subject areas. Here are some considerations for curriculum and lesson planning:
  • Create moments of mindfulness in the classroom–e.g. either a daily chill-out or breathing exercise, a reflection query, or a check-in exercise with the Mindset Map.
  • Creative Arts projects can be part of academic subjects. CIS counselors and staff can help you customize creative projects to your academic needs.​
  • Increased Phys Ed will bolster academic learning. Ensure that your students get time outside and try incorporating a physical warm-up exercise into daily classroom rituals.


What’s in our control? Make your learning space one in which students feel comfortable expressing their feelings. Here are a handful of ways to create an SEL-supportive environment:
  • Create and maintain a mindfulness corner, or simply an area where students can sit comfortably and “hang-out” during unstructured or study-hall time.
  • Place your community agreement prominently in the room and try to keep it clear of other materials.
  • Push the desks to the outside of the room and encourage circles in the middle of the room for check-ins.
  • Plan for mindful moments. Turn off or dim the lights. Try placing a soft light in the room, such as a salt lamp.
  • Create a playlist with your students that you turn on for independent or group work. Creating the playlist together for different functions (i.e., quiet, focused music, vs. fun, popular music) can give them a sense of ownership of the space.