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Social-Emotional Learning

Fostering Adult SEL: 3 Social-Emotional Learning Activities for Educators

Sam DeFlitch
Sam DeFlitch
Fostering Adult SEL: 3 Social-Emotional Learning Activities for Educators



Summer can be a meaningful time to reflect on the previous school year and look forward to the fall. That’s especially true when it comes to planning back-to-school staff training and professional development days. Centering teacher and staff social-emotional learning can be a powerful way to build community and, in turn, develop students’ social-emotional learning.

Many district leaders are increasingly focused on promoting students’ SEL skills, but in order to cultivate these skills, adult SEL must be a priority. It’s vital that we empower educators to foster important social-emotional learning skills so they are better equipped to develop them in students. Just as importantly, teachers and staff deserve opportunities to build skills like self-efficacy, self-awareness, and relationship skills in a community where they feel a sense of belonging


Adult SEL
is the process of helping educators build their expertise and skills to lead social and emotional learning initiatives. It also involves cultivating adults' own social and emotional competencies. 


Back-to-school preparation provides the perfect opportunity to plan for your educators’ social-emotional learning. In this blog, you’ll find three low-lift activities that you can embed into staff training, professional development days, and routine meetings to support adult SEL throughout the academic year.

Table of Contents

Three Activities to Promote Adult SEL

Growth Circles

The Two-Word Check-In

Inclusive Get-to-Know-You Questions

Next Steps: Cultivating Adult SEL Throughout the School Year


Key Takeaways:

  1. Priority on Adult SEL: To effectively promote students' social-emotional learning (SEL) skills, districts must prioritize adult SEL. Empowering educators to develop their own social and emotional competencies is crucial for fostering these skills in students.

  2. Activities for Adult SEL: Incorporating low-lift activities like Growth Circles, the Two-Word Check-In, and Inclusive Get-to-Know-You Questions into staff training and meetings can support adult SEL throughout the academic year.

  3. Continuous Practice: Cultivating adult SEL is not limited to back-to-school preparations; it is an ongoing process that requires incorporating SEL strategies and activities into staff interactions and professional development throughout the school year.

Download Panorama’s Adult SEL Toolkit for 2023-24 [Free Worksheets, Activities, and Resources]


3 Activities To Promote Adult SEL 

Here are three impactful activities and strategies you can use to boost your teacher and staff capacity for SEL this school year. Each of these SEL activities comes from Panorama’s Adult SEL Toolkit—a free resource where you’ll find a range of professional development activities, protocols, and templates to help your district’s educators build community and foster resilience.           


1. Growth Circles

Growth Circles are a great way to support participants in setting goals, growing their self-efficacy (academic or professional self-esteem), and adopting a growth mindset (the belief that we can change and grow).

Growth Circles include:

  • A Goal Statement: something that you hope to be able to do or improve at.
  • A “Can Do” circle: all the things you can do related to the goal.
  • A “Not Yet” circle: all the things you cannot yet do related to the goal. 
  • A Strategy: one or two things that you can do in the short-term to expand or grow your “Can Do” circle. 

The “Can Do” and “Not Yet” circles reveal what success and failure really look like. Success is any time you take action to grow your “Can Do” circle, even if you don’t reach your goal. Failure is when you do nothing to expand your “Can Do” circle.


Pro Tip:
We recommend starting with a non-professional goal or a personal goal to model and introduce the growth circle. Chunk each of the steps and model with a non-professional goal, such as learning how to dribble a basketball. This can help participants learn about developing a growth mindset first.


2. The Two-Word Check-In
fueled schools logog                                                                 (courtesy of FuelEd)

The two-word check-in is a simple yet powerful classroom exercise that enhances emotional awareness, promotes authenticity, and builds community. It builds adult capacity to model CASEL’s SEL competencies such as self-awareness, social awareness, decision-making, and self-management.

When educators embody the same wellness practices that they hope to teach their students, the outcomes for learners and teachers are amplified. Consider using the two-word check-in as an icebreaker or opening exercise to kick off team meetings, professional development workshops, or PLCs.

Instructions for Facilitation: 

  1. Ask participants to find a comfortable seat (either at their desk or on the floor). If there is space and the group is meeting in person, everyone can sit together in a community circle. 
  2. Instruct participants to place both hands on their diaphragm or heart and take a few deep breaths. They can keep a soft gaze or close their eyes—whichever feels safer for them. 
  3. Say: “As you continue to breathe, notice how you are feeling right now. Check in with the emotions you’re experiencing. Every emotion is welcome; give yourself permission to be exactly as you are. Take a few more moments here to connect to how you are feeling as we take some collective breaths.” 
  4. Ask participants to choose two words to describe how they are feeling. Instruct them to open their eyes or give a thumbs-up when they have two words in mind. 
  5. To close this exercise, participants can take turns sharing their two words (if they feel comfortable doing so). The facilitator can start by sharing their two-word check-in.

3. Inclusive Get-to-Know-You Questions

We know the importance of building relationships and checking in with students on a regular basis. However, it’s just as important to form meaningful relationships with the educators in your building. When your teachers and staff form these relationships with each other—and with administrators—they’re more likely to trust that their work environment is a safe space where they can grow and thrive.

You can check in with teachers through inclusive get-to-know-you questions throughout the school year. These can be questions about:

  • Social-emotional learning
    • What is your social-emotional superpower?
    • Who is someone at your school that you know you can count on?
  • The transition back to school
    • What is one thing you are looking forward to this school year?
    • What can your fellow teachers or administrators do to better support you?
  • Professional strengths
    • How would you like to be recognized for your successes?
    • What is one thing you think you do well as a teacher?

If you are a district or school administrator focused on improving relationships and sense of belonging campus-wide, these types of questions can help to foster mindfulness and a positive learning environment for all members of your school. Opportunities for these check-ins can easily be built into existing meeting structures, and can be an important way to form community. 

When you download Panorama’s Adult SEL Toolkit, you’ll find a list of 40 inclusive get-to-know-you questions that you can use throughout the year.


Fun fact:
Teams at Panorama frequently use these questions to open meetings—because when we learn about each other, we feel more connected to each other and the important work we do.


Next Steps: Cultivating Adult SEL Throughout the School Year

Back-to-school is a valuable time to form relationships with teachers and provide opportunities for them to strengthen social-emotional skills. But cultivating adult SEL is a continuous practice

By incorporating the strategies, worksheets, and activities in Panorama’s Adult SEL Toolkit into your staff meetings, small groups, and professional development days, you can empower educators to foster important social-emotional learning skills. They’ll be better equipped to develop them in students, and feel a sense of belonging in a community that values their continued well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Why is it important for districts to prioritize adult SEL alongside student SEL initiatives

Prioritizing adult SEL ensures that educators are equipped with the necessary skills and mindset to effectively foster students' social and emotional learning. When educators model SEL competencies, they create a supportive environment conducive to student growth.

2. How can back-to-school activities be utilized to promote adult SEL among educators

Back-to-school activities such as staff training and professional development days offer opportunities to embed activities focused on adult SEL, fostering a sense of community and well-being among educators as they prepare for the upcoming school year.

3. How can districts ensure that adult SEL practices are sustained throughout the school year beyond back-to-school preparations?

Sustaining adult SEL practices requires integrating SEL strategies and activities into ongoing staff interactions, meetings, and professional development opportunities. Districts can utilize resources like Panorama's Adult SEL Toolkit to support continuous educator growth in SEL.

4. What are the benefits of incorporating adult SEL into district-wide initiatives beyond individual classroom practices?

Incorporating adult SEL into district-wide initiatives fosters a culture of well-being and collaboration among educators, leading to improved staff morale, retention, and ultimately, better outcomes for students. It creates a supportive environment where educators feel valued and empowered to support student success.


Support Educator Capacity for SEL Throughout the School Year with Panorama’s Free Adult SEL Toolkit

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