Using Social-Emotional Learning Skills to Prepare Students for Jobs

  (Updated April 11, 2022)
Lora McKillop
Lora McKillop
Elementary school principal; M.A. in Executive Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC
Male teacher shaking hands with a female student in a classroom.

What is Social-Emotional Learning and Why is It Important?

Social-emotional learning is:

  • Teaching students how to understand their emotions
  • How to regulate emotions
  • How to get along with others

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can also encompass:

Social-emotional learning is important because if students do not learn emotional regulation skills, emotional intelligence skills, and social skills of how to treat others while in school, they will have a hard time navigating the adult world, especially in the professional realm.

How did COVID Impact the Development of Social-Emotional Learning Skills in Students?

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the development of social-emotional learning for students in many ways. The first way was virtual learning. Students were unable to have the in-person instruction and interaction with teachers and peers that they were used to for their entire educational career.

My son was a high school senior in 2020, and it was an extremely hard time for him as he finished his high school career and began his college career. The impact of not being able to have the typical college freshman experience impacted him on many levels. Virtual learning limited hands-on student learning experiences, group discussion, collaborative learning, and meaningful conferences with teachers and instructors.

Because of this, we all became experts at Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and many other online platforms. However, while this kept us in contact with students and families, it limited interactions and opportunities for critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

COVID also impacted students because they were dealing with trying to understand a worldwide pandemic and the sickness and loss of friends and loved ones. This is a lot for adults to navigate, but this was extremely difficult for adolescents, and many became depressed and developed anxiety. Luckily, we have made positive progress in helping students overcome these feelings and challenges since going back to in-person learning.

Social-Emotional Skills Needed for Job Readiness

As a working professional, I consider the following social-emotional skills imperative for job readiness and success:

  • Self-awareness
  • Perseverance
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Integrity
  • Self-direction
  • Goal setting
  • Collaboration/teamwork
  • Effective communication

Each of these skills helps support us in the workplace because they drive us to be our best and do our best so that we are a productive team member whom others can trust and depend on.

How to Foster Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom

As educators, we have to teach students academics but also life skills and social-emotional skills. This is done extremely well at the elementary level but is sometimes seen as more of a challenge once students reach middle school. High school is just as critical for social-emotional learning, because this age group is dealing with things they do not know how to and have never had to before including college and career readiness.

If we can equip them with skills that teach them how to enhance their emotional intelligence, we are arming them with tools to be successful in life. It can be more difficult at those levels to get students to connect with it, but we have to embrace SEL and include it in the daily activities and interactions planned for the school. We have to persevere and show kids that we care about them and their future.

Here are a few ways teachers can foster social-emotional learning in the classroom.

Discuss Scenarios

Start by giving students scenarios and discussing what they would do if they were in that situation—this makes it a little easier to open up conversations because students are not being forced to talk about themselves. It takes some of the pressure off of students, and they will feel less put on the spot.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

Make sure to present students with ways to help them make decisions. You can combine this with problem-solving skills—both topics have many of the same processes and steps. Go through ways that are effective and then have students work together to problem-solve something academic or real-world. Students can then reflect on the process and write about what part they need more support with.


Students need to develop self-awareness and strategies to deal with their feelings, whether good or bad. It is also important as students get older for them to learn how to recognize how others are feeling.

This will help them navigate how to treat others and react to their own feelings around others that might be in a different headspace than them. Knowing all this can eliminate conflict or arguments that might otherwise happen.

Situational Role-Play

Students need lessons on communicating with others and effective methods of communication. It is beneficial to teach kids when an email is appropriate and when something needs to be a conversation. Role-playing some of these would be an excellent activity for older students.

Some useful and appropriate SEL curriculum resources can help teachers, and school counselors find research-based materials to present these topics to students. The most important thing to remember is that we do not have to be perfect; we have to show that we care.

We have to have honest conversations with kids and be vulnerable to share some of our life experiences, so they know they are not the only ones feeling the way they do. It is okay to fail but not to give up. We learn through our failures, and as long as we keep trying, we will keep improving into the future.

Do you have passion for high school education and want to advance your career? Check out our middle/secondary education graduate programs and get started today!

*Updated April 2022
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