SEL Teaching Strategies: Warmth and Support 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Create a culture of self reflection, problem solving, and respect.

Learning happens when we are focused on progress (over product), and we are willing to take risks. So often in our classrooms, students are nervous about making mistakes and are focused on being right. How do we intentionally create a classroom and school community that is supportive? 

The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders found ten key social-emotional learning teaching strategies. One of those, warmth and support, helps create a positive classroom community. Warmth and support is the academic and social support that students receive from their teacher and their peers.

Let's look at some intentional social-emotional learning teaching strategies to build an environment where students are connected, taking risks, and supporting each other.

Warmth & Support Strategies

Share Feedback & Concerns

Supportive classroom communities allow students and teachers to share feedback and concerns. Think about the ways that students can share feedback or concerns with you and with each other.

Some practices to consider:

  • Peace Table to resolve conflicts between students. Consider a step-by-step process for this that students learn and become fluent in.
  • comments and questions box where students can leave notes for you. You can have a time once a week where you address these.
  • If you use exit tickets for students at the end of lessons, try adding a question asking for their feedback on the lesson. This can be a simple 5-point scale asking about their understanding. You can also have them write down a question about something from class.
  • Quarterly student surveys asking for feedback about the class.
Conflict Resolution Skills Lesson

Take Interest in Each Other

Find ways to learn about your students and them about each other. Genuine interest can build connections. 

  • Let students do personal projects. This can be a passion project on a topic they love or a project exploring something about themselves. Give time for peers to learn from each other.
  • Share about yourself with anecdotes. Create a room that shows who you are.
  • Let students decorate their notebooks, desks, or lockers. Find ways that they can express who they are.
  • Use morning meetings to share and ask questions about each other. Check out Responsive Classroom for morning meeting ideas.


Following up with students helps create trust, which is necessary for any healthy classroom community. Trust happens when we do what we say we will do.

  • Create systems that help you follow up. A million things happen daily, and it's easy to forget one student's concern.
  • Class circles at the end of the day or week. Have students circle up for the last 20 minutes on Friday afternoon. Have a topic to give it structure and allow for time to share concerns or ask questions. This is an excellent bookend to morning meetings.
  • When a student comes with a concern, give them an IOU slip. You can owe them a more extended conversation when there is time.
  • Make sure students follow up with each other when they hurt feelings or if they want to say something. The best thing you can do is give them the language and process to have these conversations.

Praise Risks

When taking risks isn't intentionally valued, kids will wait til they are right. Helping students see the value and positive in risk-taking and mistakes is part of a community of warmth & support.

  • Recognize when students use strategies, persevere on challenging tasks, or try when unsure.
  • Make reflection a regular part of the learning process. You can use reflection sheets and complement them with Brag Sheets to help students look at their positive choices.
  • If mistakes are okay, then there should be opportunities to get it right. Give students opportunities to do something over again.
  • What If Plans. Have students think through what they will do if they get stuck when trying something new or challenging. This works equally well when thinking through social situations.

Download these free recognition cards to use with students throughout the year.

Think Sheet and Brag sheet for student reflection

Celebrate Mistakes & Progress

For students to feel comfortable making mistakes and taking risks, they must know those are positive things.

  • In one classroom mentioned in this Edutopia article, a teacher has Failure Friday. They pick someone considered a success (i.e., Oprah, Steven Spielberg), and they look at how that person experienced failure, took risks, and learned from mistakes.
  • Projects and assignments that show the learning process. We do this often with writing, showing students' drafts through to their final copies. Where else could we do this?
  • Teach students how to ask for help. Sentence starters and scenarios can be super helpful. It lets students know they will need to ask for help at some point, and this is how you do it.
  • Learn out loud. When you make a mistake, tell students. Do one better and reflect. Let them ask questions. Make learning a transparent process.

Reflection Questions

The strategies above will help you build a culture of warmth and support in your classroom. Write down a plan you can reflect on and tweak throughout the year.

Ask yourself the following questions from the SEL Coaching Toolkit:

  • Do students feel valued by you and their peers? What practices help students feel valued? How do you know they feel that way? 
  • Do students feel respected by you and their peers? What practices help students feel respected? How do you know they feel that way?
  • Do students feel supported by you and their peers? What practices help students feel supported? How do you know they feel that way?
  • What opportunities are there for students to develop positive relationships with their peers?
  • Think about a lesson from this past week. Did the lesson allow students to voice their thoughts and opinions in a respectful environment?
  • How do you acknowledge and support the academic, social, or emotional concerns of students?

Check out this Social and Emotional Learning Coaching Toolkit from the American Institutes for Research for more details about teaching practices that support Social Emotional Learning.

What is one way you build a culture of warmth and support in your classroom? Comment below.

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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