Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Classroom Practice



group of school kids and teacher in classroom

Classroom Climate: How Empowered Teachers Create the Relationships Children Need to Learn and Flourish

Observations by educators confirm what studies show repeatedly: a positive school climate reduces bullying behaviors. As a result, educators have been engaged in initiatives to assess and improve the climate of their schools.

What is climate? The general consensus is that it involves the “feel” of the school environment that results from the daily interactions between students, teachers, support staff, administration-everyone in the school community.

Where does this school climate originate? It is made of all of the “internal” climates of all members of the school, and thus is an inside out process. If the collective internal climates of the school’s members is positive, then the impact on the school climate as a whole will go in a positive direction.

What does “internal’ climate mean?  It can be described as the state (at any given time) of one’s intellectual and emotional mind that has a direct effect on one’s behavior.  Yet, while we describe it as internal, it has a lot to do with the nature of the interactions and relationships a person experiences in a school.

How does a child’s positive internal climate emerge? It certainly is an ongoing process that that starts at birth and begins with how a child relates to parents and other caregivers, as well as siblings. Once the child enters school, then the school plays a major role in this process.  And, the classroom, specifically the teacher/student relationship, is the focal point for the growth of the child’s positive internal climate.

Why is this so?  We all know that children often spend more time with their teachers than with their parents and that teachers have  a powerful influence on their students. Teachers who have an understanding of how they can create a positive internal climate of their students and a positive classroom climate have the most success. Teacher behavior is the key and the empowered teacher can make the most impact toward positive classroom climate

What makes an empowered teacher?

  1.  Empowered teachers know that the relationship that they establish with their students, both individually and as a whole, is the most important factor in classroom climate, academic success, and healthy emotional/social development of students.
  2.  Teachers know that they are attachment figures and understand the behaviors that create a secure attachment between adult and child.
  3.  They understand their position a leaders in the classroom
    1. They have a strong mission statement.
    2. They are powerful model of  mature adult behavior and moral character.
    3. They are responsible for the physical, intellectual and emotional safety of the students in their classrooms.
    4. They know that they are watched, referenced and imitated by their students.
    5. They  understand, use, and promote healthy boundaries.
  1. Empowered teachers understand the role of emotions in teaching and learning:
    1. They know that they must model and teach healthy social/emotional skills.
    2. They know  that emotion and learning are intricately connected, because emotion drives attention, which drives memory, which drives learning.
  1. Empowered teachers understand that who they are as people, their roles, talents,  skills,  natural ways of interacting with the world, and  their  communication  styles all have an impact on their students.

All of these characteristics, roles, and practices are at the core of the empowered teacher. And when put into practice in the classroom, can have a powerful effect on the child, classroom, and school climate.

Joanne MacLennan is a faculty member and SEL specialist at  the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ.  She provides professional development for the Youth Empowerment Alliance at United Way of Northern NJ and is on the faculty of the Academy for Social Emotional Learning. She can be reached at:




3 ‘Simple’ Ideas Every Educator Should Work on in 2017

Summary:  As we begin a new year, this article suggests three areas that all teachers should consider for 2017.  They include relationships with students, teaching strategies, and listening to others.

Source:  Peter DeWitt, Education Week, January 1, 2017

Categories:  Classroom Practice, Emotional Intelligence, SEL Basics, Positive Relationships




The Myth of Walkthroughs: 8 Unobserved Practices in Classrooms

Summary:  This article looks at the practice of Classroom Walk-throughs (informal observations) and provides some insight on what might be missed or misconstrued in using this practice.

Source:  Peter DeWitt, Education Week, April 19, 2016

Categories:  Classroom Practice, School Culture/Climate, Teacher Evaluation, Teacher Collaboration



Sleeping in Class

Burn Your Podium (and Other Hacks)

Summary:  In this commentary on Edutopia, Jay Meadows advocates active learning as a means to increasing student engagement and agency.  He also suggests several “hacks” that will engage students in learning and give them voice in the classroom.

Source:  Jay Meadows, Edutopia, December 6, 2016

Categories:  Student Engagement, Student Voice, Classroom Practice




Stepping Up to Teach in Turbulent Times

Summary: This article presents one teacher’s view of how to handle these turbulent times in the classroom.  She makes several suggestions about how teachers can provide a forum for discussion through morning meetings, core values, acts of kindness, problem solving circles, and peace talks, among others.

Source:  Karen Engels, Education Week, December 6. 2016

Categories: Classroom Practice, Core Values, Educational Equity, School Culture/Climate, SEL Basics.



Jigsaw pyramid

Tackling School Climate, Student Behavior as a Route to Improvement

Summary: This article covers several multi-tiered student support systems – RTI and PBIS, in particular – in meeting the requirements of ESSA.  These support systems have been found to help special education and ELL students, but also have the potential to help all students.

Source:  Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, September 27, 2016

Categories:  SEL Basics, School Culture and Climate, Classroom Practice, PBIS




Teachers Seize On ‘Growth Mindset,’ But Crave More Training

Summary:  This article reports on the results from an Education Week poll of K-12 teachers asking them about their familiarity with the topic and their readiness to use if effectively in their teaching.  The result was that a majority of teachers surveyed were familiar with the idea of the growth mindset but an even greater majority wanted more professional development on the topic.

Source:  Evie Blad, Education Week, September 20, 2016

Categories:  Mindset, Classroom Practice



Class Meeting

How to Run SEL/SECD Lessons – Pedagogy from Social Decision Making

Summary:  This is a pdf which describes ways to run lessons infused with SEL/SECD content.  This should be useful for anyone who wishes to create a classroom or a school environment that is based on social-emotional learning and character development.

Source:  Maurice Elias and Linda Bruene Butler, et al. Research Press, 2005

Categories:  SEL Basics, Character Education, Classroom Practice



transgender symbol

How To Support Transgender Students in the Classroom

Summary:  This article makes some suggestions about supporting transgender students in school.   It also provides some definitions and some background information to help in understanding how to provide an inclusive classroom environment for these students.

Source:  Marian Oswald, Edudemic, September 5, 2016

Category:  LGBTQ Issues, Classroom Environment, Educational Equity




Five Things You Can Do That Will Make You a Better Educator Right Now

Summary:  This blog suggests five things that teachers can do right away to make them better educators.  They include creating a classroom value system, prioritizing self-care, creating strong but kind classroom routines, don’t take student misbehavior personally, and maintain a sense of humor.

Source:  Phil Brown,, August 25, 2016

Categories:  Mindset, Character Education, Classroom Practice, Core Values, Codes of Conduct