Creating a classroom environment that develops students’ social- and emotional-learning skills.

by Leigh VandenAkker

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


The most important thing I can do for my students is to create and maintain a classroom environment that encourages them to develop their social- and emotional-learning skills.

Social- and emotional-learning is more important than ever because the future will demand our students possess skills for jobs that have not even been created yet. We need to prepare them by ensuring that they are self-confident learners who can develop and share ideas with others.

I create this environment in my classroom by helping students to develop a strong foundation of:

–Academic resiliency, the ability to persist with a problem or idea no matter what the obstacle;

–Self advocacy, the ability to be confident in your ideas and interests and to express them in emotionally mature and empathetic ways; and

–Interpersonal skills, the ability to share ideas and interests with others and to listen and support their peers in their own learning.

Focusing on these essential social- and emotional-skills helps students to understand that they can continue to be successful.

This belief—and the ability to learn everyday in a classroom free of judgment so that this belief can flourish—helps students face immediate challenges and prepares them for their future success.


What I did well…

One thing worth mentioning is the way I immediately got the teachers involved.  I wanted them to feel my passion for teaching social and emotional learning skills.  By involving them in the process they could feel how teaching these skills can quickly remove barriers and preconceived ideas.  Teachers are constantly pushed to use different strategies to engage their students. Teaching social and emotional learning skills reinforces interaction among students.  Demonstrating while involving the participants allowed the teachers to share their ideas and interests with others.  Their energy for what was being taught contributed to the overall success of the sequence.  It was useful for the teachers to be able to demonstrate their understanding of my strategies, by posing questions within the context of their worlds.  I modeled a student-centered environment where the participants could engage in conversations to ensure deeper learning.

What I would do more of or differently… 

I would relax, smile and allow my personality to show through in my teaching.  In my classroom, I am much more engaging.  I would not allow the cameras to intimidate me and I would not be so afraid of making mistakes. Also, I would allow for more conversations regarding how to use these strategies in different classroom settings.  I would ask questions to get teachers thinking of how to vary the activities and make adjustments to use them in their own classrooms.  I would ask the teachers how and why using these skills would be powerful in their own settings.  Also, I would try to incorporate more ideas into the sequence.  Once I modeled a skill, I could then talk through a series of examples.  This would provide more information for the teachers to take back with them.  I would finish the sequence by asking what more they needed from me to be able to implement the strategies modeled.

In what ways do I still want to learn and grow in using this practice in my classroom…

I remain passionate about not only teaching social and emotional learning skills in my classroom but modeling and assisting other teachers in using these same skills.  I want to be able to clearly and consistently support and encourage others in teaching these critical life skills.  Social and emotional learning is more important than ever before.  I want to continue my focus on these skills to ensure all students are provided the opportunity to learn in an environment where they can ask for and receive help, gain self-confidence and know they are important.


About Leigh VandenAkker

Leigh M. VandenAkker is Utah’s 2012 Teacher of The Year and winner of Utah’s 2011 Golden Apple Award. She is a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Hu...

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