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4 SEL Skills Every Student Must Have for a Successful Grade Transition

4 SEL Skills Every Student Must Have for a Successful Grade Transition

When we think about whether a student is ready to move to the next grade or graduate, we often think in terms of academics. Yes, there is a baseline of knowledge every student needs to have to be successful at the next level, or else learning gaps will develop. However, many of the skills that prepare students for success in school (and life) can be found within the realm of social and emotional learning (SEL), which includes  skills to manage emotions, set and achieve goals, establish and maintain relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Here are four ways to build an intentional practice in these SEL skills into your classroom.


The ability to ask for help when needed and then ask the right questions about the situation is a learned skill. Even college-level students can struggle in self-advocacy. The earlier you can provide practice, the better.

Like many facets of SEL, you can start by modeling the behavior yourself. Model questioning strategies during lessons, even rhetorically. Also, work on framing any redirections or admonitions, as you are requesting help from the student rather than asserting authority. It models the fact that even teachers need help sometimes and that it’s OK to ask.

Goal Setting

For many students, their goals come from someone else like parents or teachers. The ability to set incremental goals often sets successful high school and college students apart. You can help students develop goal-setting skills early by giving them a voice in setting lesson objectives for the day based on the standards you are trying to hit. Not only are you modeling the correct process, but also you are generating buy-in for learning.


Employers cite collaboration as one of the most requested skills on the job market, so students should expect an increasing amount of group work as they proceed through school. Help them by providing a lot of opportunities not only to work together but also to give and receive constructive feedback. This is often where children struggle when working together. Also, set up a firm conflict resolution protocol and use it often enough to where students follow it on their own.


Digital natives are used to having things served to them, so they may struggle in decision-making. Use your subject content to highlight important decisions and show how a person from the lessons (whether it’s a character from literature, historical figure, mathematician, etc.) reached the conclusions that he or she made. Teachers make countless decisions a day, so verbalize some of your thought processes as a model for your students. For a fun project, have students create their own “choose your own adventure” story, flowchart, or movie as practice. And, always recognize when students make good decisions, and celebrate that success.

Looking for more ways to infuse SEL practices into your classroom? Check out these five read-alouds to teach SEL to students!

This post was originally published May 2019 and has been updated.

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Scott Sterling

Scott Sterling is a former English teacher who worked in Title I middle and high schools in St. Petersburg, Florida who is now a freelance writer who focuses on education. He is also a stay-at-home dad to his 4-year-old daughter Lily, who will soon be starting her own educational journey.