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Embrace Social Emotional Learning in Your Library

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

Dear Dr. Laura

My district has been focusing on SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and I’m wondering how this fits in from the library’s perspective.


Just Wondering Librarian

Hi, Wondering Librarian,

This is such an important topic! I’m so glad you are thinking about your role in supporting SEL on your campus!

Young girl playing with puppies

Let’s start by defining social and emotional learning (SEL). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a recognized source for learning about SEL. They say, “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.”

So, what exactly does this mean on a practical level? Luckily for me, I recently attended a training by the American Institutes for Research where they shared some instructional practices for SEL. I later found their Coaching Toolkit online where you can see a breakdown of SEL teaching practices.

  • Student-centered discipline

  • Teacher language

  • Responsibility and choice

  • Warmth and support

  • Cooperative learning

  • Classroom discussions

  • Self-assessment and self-reflection

  • Balanced instruction

  • Academic press and expectations

  • Competence building

Young woman contemplating

I think a big part of you learning your role with SEL in the library is reflection. Choose an area from above of one SEL teaching practice you want to start working on this semester or this year. This will be an ever-growing list of skills for you to develop. So take your time and choose somewhere to get started.

For this example, let’s choose student-centered discipline as an example to get started with. Student-centered discipline falls under the S of SEL. It is a social teaching practice. Last week’s blog post was about Classroom Library Management. I gave some examples of creating t-charts with the students to help them understand what your expectations look like and sound like. If we look at page 11 of the Coaching Toolkit, you can see where AIR describes teacher practices and student behaviors.

You need to reflect on whether these strategies are present or not in your library. You may also decide if they are only minimally or moderately present in your library. Jot down some evidence of what you and the students do. You’ll want to come back at the end of the semester or year to see your growth.

Lady smiling as she watches and listens to her laptop

If you think it will help, set up a video camera in a corner of the library and leave it running during one or two of your class periods. Later on, review the video. It might help you pinpoint some student behavior issues you need to address. It may also show you a teacher behavior you need to change in your teaching practices. And it can also confirm that you are doing a GREAT job!

Next, it’s time to set up some accountability. Bring up the topic of student-centered discipline with your PLN (personal/professional learning network). If you get the opportunity to meet in person, awesome! Use the debriefing questions on page 22 in the Coaching Toolkit to guide your conversation about student-centered discipline. If you only have a virtual PLN, no problem! Start a Twitter or Facebook conversation using some of the questions found on page 22 of the Coaching Toolkit

Remember this is a reflective exercise for you. If you are going to get better at helping students in the area of SEL, you will spend a lot of time reflecting on how you interact with the students and other educators on your campus and in your larger circle of influence. You will find SEL embedded all throughout AASL’s Standards Framework for Learners. I see it in my state library program standards also. It’s probably in your state standards, even if it never explicitly says SEL.

document showing data charts

Why is it important? Because each one of our students and educator colleagues matters. Believe it or not, there is an ever-growing body of research that shows SEL programming positively impacts students’ academic performance, classroom behavior, and attitudes. I’m sure that’s something your administrator would want to get behind!

So, I challenge you to reflect and discover how you and your library can support SEL. It’s going to make you a better librarian. Remember that a school librarian has the opportunity to create a positive influence on overall school culture. So, when you focus on SEL, your students and colleagues will reap the rewards of your efforts.

Go out and make a difference!

Dr. Laura


The Librarian Influencer of the Week is Barbara Paciotti. Barbara is from the Dallas Metroplex area of Texas who entered the school library world through a back door of sorts. She helped open a technology-focused school in the early years of technology’s boom.

You can find her podcast interview on my podcast page, your favorite podcast player, or by visiting this link

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