SEL Teaching Strategies: Warmth and Support 

By: Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min

Learning often happens when we are focused on progress (over product) and we are willing to take risks. So often in our classrooms, students are nervous to make 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 10 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 from their peers.

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

Warmth & Support Strategies

Share Feedback & Concerns

Supportive classroom communities have ways for 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.
  • A 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 the lesson too.
  • Quarterly student surveys asking for feedback about the class.
Conflict resolution process

Take Interest in Each Other

Find ways to learn about your students and let them learn about each other. This is both academically and personally. Genuine interest build connections. 

  • Let students do personal projects. This can be either a passion project on a topic they love or a project on 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 a day and it's easy to forget one student's concern.
  • Class circles at the end of the day or end of the week. Have student 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 a good bookend to morning meetings.
  • When a student comes with a concern, give them an IOU slip. You can owe them a longer conversation when there is time.
  • Make sure students follow-up with each other when they hurt feelings or if they just wanted 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 they are unsure.
  • Make reflection a regular part of the learning process. I like to use reflection sheets, but also complement that 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 need to know that those are positive things.

  • In one classroom mentioned in this Edutopia article, a teacher has Failure Friday. They pick someone who is considered a success (i.e., J.K. Rowling, Oprah), and they look at the ways that 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 to 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 that 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, but it is essential to reflect and write down a plan that you can tweak throughout the year as your class develops.

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 offer students the opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions in a respectful environment?
  • How do you acknowledge and support the academic concerns of students? How do you acknowledge and support the social concerns of students? How do you acknowledge and support the emotional concerns of students?

Check out this Social and Emotional Learning Coaching Toolkit from American Institutes for Research for more detail 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.

Check out more teaching practices that promote social emotional learning: 

Teacher Language: What We Say Matters

Responsibility and Choice in the Classroom

Student-Centered Discipline

There are key teaching practices that promote social emotional learning in the classroom. Warmth and support is one of those that helps students take risks, persevere, and encourage each other.
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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