SEL in Action Newsletter

Our Voices, Our Stories

This newsletter is written for educators, by educators to share real world stories, questions, ideas and opinions about how to address the social and emotional needs of students and the adults who teach them.

This month, the newsletter features voices of grantees on SEL practices for students and educators as the season changes, and culturally-sustaining, anti-racist SEL as a practice embedded in the wider world we live in.

Share your story here! Complete this brief survey if you would like to be featured in a future newsletter. All publications are awarded a $50 gift card.

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Upcoming Events and Updates

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The December SEL in Action Webinar is coming the week of December 13, 2021 with Dr. Sharim Hannegan-Martinez! Be on the lookout for additional information.

Educator Advisory Group

The SEL in Action team has begun working with a set of nine grantees who volunteered to be part of an Educator Advisory Group. The Advisory Group provides insight into the “real world” needs of educators who are implementing SEL each day and the kinds of support needed to do it well. The Advisory Group launched in September and will provide input, leadership and guidance to the SEL in Action team to inform and shape the experience, opportunities and support that SEL in Action grantees receive throughout the 2021-22 academic year.

While we strive to gather feedback from various sources, especially directly from all grantees, we are grateful for the extra time and thought partnership we are receiving from these nine grantees:

  • Joshua Augustus, Victor Valley Union High School District, CA
  • Ray Baker, Hinsdale District 86, IL
  • Kathy Batty, Champlain Valley School District, VT
  • Valerie C Braimah, City Charter Schools, CA
  • Ivee Cruz, University Laboratory School, HI
  • Stacy Jones, W.M. Davies Career & Technical High School, RI
  • Ashley Krinke, Northern Cass School District 97, ND
  • Tina Vasquez, Charlottesville City Schools, VA
  • Elyse Ward, Ossining Union Free School District, NY
Subscribe to the SEL in Action Calendar

Check out the calendar of events to browse supports, add calendar invites to your calendar or locate zoom links.

Resource Corner

The SEL in Action community has been collaborating to compile this ever-evolving list of resources. It includes hand-curated resources from former SEL in Action grantees, videos from prior SEL in Action supports and convenings, an archive of the SEL in Action Newsletters. Check it out!

Educator Voices

Grating Gratitude: Flavoring Your Life with Appreciation by Kristie Opaleski

November always brings beautiful colors, darker commutes home, and of course, Thanksgiving. With COVID still impacting student experience this year, it’s a perfect opportunity to teach my students to reframe their frustrations and to observe the simple pleasures that life offers us.

I created a gratitude journal for my junior and senior English students to reflect on the small “stuff” that can make or break their day. Using Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, I composed prompts that build on the six habits of highly grateful people coupled with their monthly Happiness Calendar to engage students cognitively, emotionally, and sometimes physically in mindfulness. The prompts that fostered that most discussion were:

  • Who is one person you are grateful for that you do not know personally? Think of all the nameless people you come in contact with, the unsung heroes of everyday life. Explain how a bus driver, a waitress, a cashier, etc. makes your life better.

  • After reflecting on a negative event in my life, I can now be grateful that it happened because I learned ________________. This is important to me because___________. Being grateful about this was (easy or difficult) for me because______________

  • Even though I want to change (something that you want to change in your life) I can still appreciate ___________ in my life because…….

  • Even though I want (insert a physical object or item you want), I am happy that I have/own _______________- because……...

  • The best way I can show gratitude to others is…..because……

On Fridays, we participated in a guided meditation that focused on gratitude and appreciation (note: there is a TON on Youtube for free). Interestingly, half way through the month students started requesting more meditations. They really enjoyed the five to ten minutes of silence and sharing where their thoughts took them.

Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk The Happy Secret to Better Work is a quick viewing activity that can be paired with multiple texts or classroom activities. One of his recommendations for optimal happiness is to write down three things you are grateful for for 21 days. The trick? You cannot repeat ANYTHING. I encouraged the students to complete this challenge and they are currently working through it, though have had some difficulty in remembering all the small things like access to clean water, electricity, etc. If nothing else, students began to realize how fortunate they truly are and you are a witness to this epiphany for some.

Mindfulness, SEL, trauma informed practices, all hold space for reflection and gratitude. Why not make a space for it in your classroom as well? I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Autumnal Reflections and Practicing Loving Kindness by Christine López, M.Ed.

In late September, we welcomed the Autumnal Equinox, marking a time of the year when daylight and darkness are close to being perfectly equal. It suggests a theme of balance. The autumn season also marks a time of inward reflection and restoration; an opportunity to reflect on the lessons we learned in the summer, what we want to leave behind, and what we want to carry forward into the new season. In early agrarian cultures, it was a time to share gratitude for the bountiful summer harvest, preserve resources and draw inward for well-deserved rest. Embracing and honoring these concepts from our ancestors, we obtain improved balance in the autumn season by prioritizing self-care and slowing our pace.

While this might seem simple, slowing down in a fast-paced world can be challenging. From dealing with the demands of daily life, supporting the needs of our scholars, and coping with the societal belief that “teachers are not in it for the income, but the outcome,” this can be a significant amount to process. How often do we grant ourselves time and space to genuinely reflect on our own wellbeing and remain grounded?

Did your chest tighten when contemplating a response? Did your heart begin to race? Did any anger surface? Did you experience feelings of guilt or sadness? Did you feel joy and contentment?

Explore your initial physical reactions and emotions you experienced when thinking of your response, and then, begin practicing loving kindness.

Practice Loving Kindness

Begin by making a notation of your physical responses without assigning judgement to them. While this can be difficult at first, the more frequently we practice nonjudgmental thoughts, the kinder we will become to ourselves and others. And by adopting a nonjudgmental outlook, we not only practice loving kindness, but foster empathy, compassion, unconditional love, self-acceptance, forgiveness, and a stronger connection to others.


For many, meditation typically conjures up thoughts of people sitting cross-legged and chanting while surrounded by flickering candles. Others believe that it is a “clearing the mind.” Meditation is a way to focus the mind, choose the thoughts that inhabit it, and celebrate the present moment. It also helps us identify and manage our triggers, and can also have substantial physical health benefits.

Guided imagery meditation - when you are seated comfortably and actively listening to the voice of the guide - is a good place to start, as the visualization provides something for your mind to focus on. It is commonly offered through a certified meditation instructor, at a local yoga studio, or through a variety of online applications.

Breathe Deeply

Pausing for a few minutes during the day to focus on your breath assists with slowing our pace and activating our parasympathetic nervous system, commonly referred to as our “rest and digest” mode. During this state, our blood pressure lowers along with our heart and respiration rates, which moves us into a state of relaxation and healing.

Diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” is a specific type of breath that assists in increasing our lung capacity. It engages the diaphragm versus our chest, which can create a shallower breath. As you prepare for this deep breathing technique, many healthcare professionals recommend starting in a lying position with your head and knees comfortably supported by a pillow. However, if you are more comfortable sitting, it is advised to lengthen the spine, and relax the shoulders, neck, and head.

When beginning, if possible, allow the breath to move through your nose and focus on creating an even-part breath. For example, if you take a two-count inhale, match it with a two-count exhale. Notice your nostrils expanding and contracting with each breath. Then, if possible, place one hand on your heart, and the other on your stomach. Feel the belly rise on the inhalation and fall on the exhalation. It is recommended to repeat this pattern for five to ten minutes at a time.

Additional Resources:

Meditation for practicing loving kindness

Meditation resources

Sesame Street belly breathing

Setting Boundaries, Taking Control by Amy Downard

Toward the end of last school year, I was feeling like many other educators: taking on too much, making myself too accessible to others and spending too much of my personal time on work-related tasks. I was constantly on my phone or computer, answering the needs of others. Instead of feeling connected to my students, their families and school personnel, I felt more like a prisoner. It used to be hills and valleys: surging stress for the hills and time to exhale for the valleys. However, due to the immediate access of texts and emails, I found myself in an unending hillside with no valleys in sight. What a perfect time for me to review Transforming Education’s Five High Leverage Practices. The last module, Establishing Balance and Boundaries, provided the words I needed to hear. When we do all we do for students, we have to remind ourselves to take care of ourselves as well. I used to think that by immediately answering a text or email, I was being efficient, regardless of the time of day or night I received and answered it. However, that led me to the prisoner mentality of always being accessible to others. Suddenly, I did not feel the pressure to be “on call” all day and all night.

So I started to set my boundaries and worked on the balance between work time and personal time. I would see a school related text and just smile. I did not have to jump. I would actually look at my phone and get a sense of empowerment. “I will not respond now. I will not allow my personal time to be owned by others. I can choose to set this boundary and it is okay to do so,” I told myself. It was kind of hard to do in the beginning, but it became easier and easier. If I received a late evening text, I would wait until the next day and would email my response instead of texting back. If I had a flurry of emails or phone messages, I would only answer a few and let the rest wait until I had time to address them. The balance came back. I still have those hilly surges of stressful school responsibilities, but the valleys have returned to give me a quick breather until the next hill arises. Be good to yourself. You deserve it.

A Perfect Pair: EcoJustice Education and Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining Social Emotional Learning by Mindy Nathan and Nigora Erkaeva

Elements of EcoJustice Education and Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining SEL:

  • EcoJustice Education: Understanding that local and global ecosystems are essential to human life - that deep cultural assumptions may lie beneath our current thinking and can negatively impact these systems.
  • Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining SEL: Amid major national crises (Covid pandemic, rise of hate crimes, violent behavior in general, anti-democratic leanings, sharp polar divisions) we can teach the skills of empathy, study the effects of colonization and build community in our classrooms via place-based pedagogies of responsibility.

  • EcoJustice Education: The recognition and analysis of deeply entrenched patterns of domination that unjustly define people of color, women, the poor and other groups of humans, along with life in the natural world, as less worthy of life.
  • Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining SEL: In welcoming and inclusive classrooms, “belongingness” is how students build relationships with each other and their teachers. They learn to trust each other and gain understanding of the false hierarchies that are too often assumed. These spaces are socially and developmentally supportive and healing. Students experiencing anti-racist, culturally relevant views and ideas are more likely to model what they see and hear.

  • EcoJustice Education: An analysis of globalization and the patterns of hyper-consumption and commodification that have depleted natural and human resources in the Southern Hemisphere by those living in the North.
  • Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining SEL: A root cause analysis of happiness, and the kinds of experiences that bring us authentic joy. This principle also suggests replacing consumption of things with fulfilling acts of service within our communities. Children need to be needed, they can solve problems effectively and they find joy in the process.

  • EcoJustice Education: Recognition and protection of the diverse cultural and environmental commons: the interdependence of humans with the land, air, water and other species with whom we share this planet. Opportunities abound for intergenerational relationships that result in mutual aid and support for people and the planet.
  • Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining SEL: The ability to truly value diversity is a social-emotional skill worth developing in all people. Diversity can be based on age, ability, species, areas of interest or concern and more. Children can learn to value multiple viewpoints, and new ways of seeing what might be possible, even across and within cultures.

  • EcoJustice Education: Teaching strong Earth democracies that encourage decisions that are made by the people who are most affected by them, as well as decisions that are considerate and protective of the natural world.
  • Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining SEL: Students can learn about the benefits of living in a world that values the coexistence and equality of all living things, and that bends toward justice, with the goal of free and fair treatment of all.

  • EcoJustice Education: Pedagogy and curriculum that emphasizes deep cultural analysis and community-based learning. Students can act against social, racial, cultural and ecological violence in meaningful, creative and effective ways in their communities.
  • Anti-Racist, Culturally Sustaining SEL: If anti-racism is modeled as an action - a verb - students will learn that in order to be effective, the work doesn’t stop. It is dependent on how you show up for the task every day to purposefully notice and mitigate systemic inequalities that still plague our classrooms, and sadly, the world.

While SEL is about understanding ourselves and the relationships we build, EcoJustice situates all these relationships in the ecosystems we are dependent on. When our decisions are solely anthropocentric, we might end up hurting the natural world. So EcoJustice education pushes us to think of ourselves as part of diverse ecosystems, and embedded in them. This is another strength of EcoJustice that can actually enrich SEL in multiple ways.

Credits: EcoJustice Framework from EcoJustice Education (Credit by authors to C.A. Bowers(1997;2001b); Toward Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities, Third Edition. By Rebecca A. Martusewicz, Jeff Edmundson, and John Lupinacci.

Thanks due to “Foundations of Anti-Racist SEL” presentation by Dr. Angela Ward and Dr. Adrienne Kennedy, 10-5-21, Education First - SEL in Action. Culturally Sustaining SEL - inspired by Roberto Rivera.

The SEL in Action Team

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