Practical Application: 5 Ways to Incorporate Transformative Social Emotional Learning (T-SEL) in the Classroom

Classroom presentation

To understand its impact on members of any given learning community, it is imperative “to first consider the purpose of T-SEL to the organization itself,” states Catherine Dubois, PsyD, Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology Department. “T-SEL is about promoting equity and inclusion to transform our institutions from silos of doubt, fear, and insecurity to communities that promote a sense of togetherness, belonging, and well-being for all,” says Dubois. When contemplating the T-SEL initiative at William James College, Dubois immediately focuses on the “transformative” process of social-emotional learning. “[Each member of our community] makes a difference in the daily functioning of our educational institution and the way it feels to come to work every day,” says Dubois, underscoring the real takeaway: Individuals are tasked with cultivating organizational culture, and creating the sense of community on campus—and their contributions matter. 

“For faculty interested in improving student learning outcomes and boosting motivation, the process requires a lot of effort and dedication,” says Lisa King Chalukian, PsyD, NCSP, Assistant Professor, School Psychology Department. In keeping with her research and practice interests—which include the social and emotional development of K-12 students from diverse backgrounds as well as strategies classroom teachers can use to promote social-emotional development among diverse students—King Chalukian underscores that a culturally responsive lens is integral to introducing T-SEL in college classrooms.

She outlines five ways to start: 

  1. Be Fully Engaged: To see each student as a unique individual, we must be fully engaged in the moment and actively notice when students are struggling. This includes but is not limited to, picking up on nonverbal cues such as students’ body language and tone of voice.
  2. Create a Supportive Environment: A safe, supportive, and inclusive space begins with establishing clear expectations, providing positive feedback, and encouraging students to express their thoughts and feelings. This provides opportunities for students to feel both connected and engaged. King Chalukian suggests three common practices developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) consultant Ann McKay Bryson:
    • Welcoming rituals to build trust and community and set the stage for the learning that is to come—a practice that ensures all voices in the room are heard, encouraging sustained engagement.
    • Engaging cooperative learning strategies (like “turn to your partner” and “Socratic Seminar,”) that consist of gradual steps, facilitated by the instructor, to support individual and collective learning.
    • Closing rituals (like “Appreciation, Apology, or Aha”) that provide an opportunity to reflect on what happened in class, clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings, and express appreciation and gratitude. It ensures that everyone leaves class feeling more connected.
  3. Cultivate Mindfulness: This practice reduces unconscious bias by helping each person gain a deeper understanding of their own lens on the world and the distinct perspectives of those around them. They learn to observe what stories matter to them and how they tell them, cultivating greater awareness of how we all experience and impact the larger world.
  4. Encourage Student Reflection: Asking open-ended questions that prompt students to think about their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors encourages all voices present to be heard. Other strategies for implementing a reflective style could also include journaling, working in groups, and pausing while learning to think through the material.
  5. Provide Opportunity to Practice: Actively using their social and emotional skills can help students learn. This can be achieved by having students work in groups and providing opportunities for students to practice their communication and problem-solving skills.  

“Noticing, recognizing, and honoring one another is a way William James College community members can get involved in the T-SEL initiative,” says Dubois, pointing to the vast number of resources, people, intellectual ideas, relationships, personalities, similarities, and differences that exist within the community at large. Other ways community members can get involved in the TSEL initiative is simply by being open to learning about the T-SEL initiative and attending some of the many events that the T-SEL committee sponsors throughout the year. 

“Working to establish a personal connection with each other is central to the spirit of T-SEL, since without relatedness, no work can occur. Understanding the benefits of using this lens to look at ourselves and our community will not only enhance but also strengthen our campus community, Dubois states.

 Additional members of the T-SEL committee use their respective expertise to illustrate ways in which this essential work is unfolding on campus. Beth Greenberg, PhD, Associate Professor, Counseling and Behavioral Health Department, points to student-faculty relationships—namely routine meetings with faculty advisors throughout a student’s enrollment,  an important and robust aspect of educational programs at William James College—as imperative not only in addressing challenges and problems that arise, but also disseminating information and guidance about courses, scheduling, field placements and career planning. 

“The advising process provides a natural opportunity to discuss and address the transformative social-emotional learning competencies each student brings to the William James community, as well as areas for growth in these areas,” says Greenberg. Elana Wolkoff, PhD, Associate Professor, School Psychology Department underscores the importance of student participation in the annual Assessment and Planning meeting at the end of each academic year. 

“Transformative Social Emotional Learning has been integrated into this important ritual by requiring students and their advisor to re-visit the T-SEL goal that had been developed [during the orientation survey] and to consider how the student has progressed relative to this goal,” says Wolkoff who points to the process of goal identification and reflection as critical to the development of self-awareness, a central competency of T-SEL. Ongoing workshops for faculty have been facilitated throughout the academic year to share ideas about how to integrate this focus on social and emotional competency and growth into the advising relationship, as a means of supporting both student learning and professional development. In the upcoming academic year, the hope is to begin evaluating more closely the impact of these efforts on student outcomes.

Dubois distills it down to the bare essentials: “Getting involved in the T-SEL initiative is about each person’s willingness to consider the value of using a lens of equity and inclusion, [and] being open to the idea that bringing awareness of each individual member’s contribution enhances the overall functioning of our educational institution and sense of community at William James College.”

T-Sel Committee Members (2023-24)

Anne Waters, PsyD, Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Beth Greenberg, PhD, Associate Professor, Counseling and Behavioral Health Department

Catherine Dubois, PsyD, Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Elana Wolkoff, PhD, Associate Professor, School Psychology Department

Enin Rudel, PsyD, Director, Inclusive Leadership Psychology PsyD Program

Kimbell DiCero, PsyD, Teaching Faculty, Counseling and Behavioral Health Department

Lisa King Chalukian, PsyD, Assistant Professor, School Psychology Department (Chair)

Mackenzi Bacorn, EdS, LPC-A, Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student

Mary Yasuda, Assistant, Vice President for Academic Affairs

Meredith Apfelbaum, MS, Director, Student Life and Student Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Dean of Students Office

Nadja Lopez, PhD, Executive Director, Behavioral Health, Equity, and Leadership in Schools (BHELS)

Sarahbeth Golden, PhD, Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Sejal Prajapati, PsyD, Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Stacey Lambert, PsyD, Vice President of Academic Affairs