Social-emotional Learning is a broad term that describes any intervention that teaches intrapersonal (self to self) and interpersonal (self to others) communication skills that are emotionally productive and equitable. 

In a study on how social-emotional learning can transform schools, principals nationwide expressed their commitment to developing SEL skills, their belief SEL should be taught to ALL students, and their belief that SEL skills can be accurately measured and assessed. 

But, there is a wide range of SEL implementation approaches and programs from which schools can currently choose. As SEL gains popularity and schools decide what SEL approach to take, CLASS can help with the “how” of effective SEL implementation. 

CLASS is an observational instrument that describes multiple dimensions of teacher-student interactions that are linked to student achievement and development. It is the most validated measure of classroom teaching. With its clear focus on interactions, CLASS can help with any SEL approach that a school decides to take. 

How CLASS and Social-Emotional Learning Work Together

Interactions are at the heart of both CLASS and social-emotional learning. While CLASS aims to support academic learning and curriculum by infusing it with emotionally, organizationally, and instructionally effective interactions, SEL focuses specifically on developing the ability to communicate about emotions in a productive and equitable manner.

Because of the obvious compatibility between the CLASS rubric and the content of SEL itself, the Emotional Support domain of the CLASS will be helpful to any teacher working to promote SEL in their classroom. Emotional Support is the emotional connection between the teacher and students and among students. 

In addition, learning to communicate about emotions is a process that varies based on the personality and cultural background of each individual. The variety of modalities and facilitation techniques found in the Classroom Organization domain and the multiple and varied perspectives and higher order thinking found in the Instructional Support domain can also be very helpful in teaching SEL.

When teaching students about emotional communication, with either a value based or skill based approach, it's important that adults are able to model emotional communication authentically. The CLASS can help by focusing teachers on the subtle and powerful tone of their interactions.

Classroom Strategies for Social-Emotional Learning

While there are many strategies you can use in your classroom to incorporate social-emotional learning, I-messages, student-centered discussion, and student-led discussion are three staples of SEL. These strategies are supported by CLASS dimensions such as Positive Climate and Instructional Learning Formats. They help students learn how to express their feelings, take the lead in their own learning, and show them how to communicate with each other individually and in groups. 


I-Messages are a staple of just about any SEL program, whether value-based or skill-based. In an I-Message we use this simple formula to express our feelings in a way that avoids accusation:

I feel_______when________because______ . 

As in the example of the I-Message, SEL asks both teachers and students to share of themselves in ways that are personal and vulnerable. This can be scary for everyone.

The Positive Climate dimension can support both teachers and students in this place of vulnerability by emphasizing the strength of their positive bonds with one another. The Teacher Sensitivity dimension can help teachers develop a heightened awareness around student needs within the place of vulnerability that is often created with SEL content. 

Finally, the Regard for Student Perspectives dimension can help teachers to emphasize student voice which is an essential part of learning SEL communication skills. Students cannot learn SEL skills in an academic vacuum. They must be supported in applying them directly within their own lives.

Student-Centered Activities

Project based learning, experiential learning, and role plays are often used as pedagogical approaches in SEL programs. While teachers may be excited to try these new pedagogies, which are student centered and student lead, they often lack background and support to best implement them. When a more traditional, teacher-lead approach is taken in project based, experiential, and embodied learning like role plays the results can be less than optimal.

However, the Instructional Learning Formats dimension of the CLASS can help. While not explicitly about project-based, experiential, or embodied learning, the dimension clearly outlines interactions that will make them more effective. 

When embracing pedagogies that are student-centered or student lead it is extremely important to have clear learning targets and active facilitation. Clear learning targets and active facilitation serve as the scaffolding that students need to be successful in student-centered and student lead activities. 

In addition, the variety of modalities that can be included in student-centered and student lead activities is extremely broad. Visual, kinetic, tactile, and auditory activities might all be part of a project-based or experiential SEL intervention. So the support that ILF lends to the consideration of modalities can be very helpful

Student-Led Discussion

While all of the Instructional Support dimensions can be helpful in teaching SEL, perhaps the most applicable is Instructional Dialogue (Language modeling at the early age levels). 

SEL aims to instruct teachers and students on how to communicate about emotions in a way that is both emotionally productive and equitable. At the heart of both SEL and Instructional Dialogue is communication itself - between individual students, between groups of students, and between teachers and students.

Let’s refer back to our example of I-Message and let’s imagine, as is often the case in SEL, that students are asked to do a role play wherein an I-Message is used. Much of the deeper learning around I-Messages will take place in the post role play discussion. 

The Instructional Dialogue dimension can support teachers in building a depth of response to what was seen the role pay, encouraging students to dialogue directly with one another about what they observed, and presenting open ended questions that will help students envision how to use I-Messages in their own lives. Student centered and student lead discussion is essential to SEL and the Instructional Dialogue dimension can help teachers deepen all discussions in the classroom.

While the CLASS focuses on interactions that support all types of learning, SEL focuses on teaching emotionally productive and equitable communication skills. CLASS can support teachers of SEL by illuminating a suite of subtle interactive skills - in the Emotional Support domain, in Instructional Learning Formats, and in Instructional Dialogue -  that will help bring SEL powerfully into focus in any classroom. 

Approaches to Systemic Social and Emotional Learning webinar