Practical Ways to Build Everyday SEL Support

The Flexible SEL CLASSROOM: Practical Ways to Build Social Emotional Learning, 2nd edition 
By Amber Chandler
(Routledge/AMLE, 2022 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Jenni Kramer

“YES! She gets it!” Amber Chandler not only says what many educators are thinking, but lives her truth.

I found The Flexible SEL Classroom: Practical Ways to Build Social Emotional Learning not only a true representation of the need for SEL in our middle school settings, but I gathered ideas and lessons that will help me to “intentionally set about truly seeing our students, growing relationships, and building community” in my school and classroom.

Chandler focuses her writing around the Core SEL Competencies (CASEL- Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) which are divided into the following chapters:

  • The Truth About Grades and the Importance of Risk-Taking
  • Keeping All the Balls in the Air: The importance of Self-Management
  • Escaping the Echo Chamber: Teaching Self-Awareness
  • Whatever Happened to Afterschool Specials? Preparing Students for Responsible Decision-Making
  • Relationship Skills: Don’t Let Them Get Your Goat
  • Social Awareness: “We All Have to Try”
  • Restoration: Circles and Bubbles for Healing
  • Resilience: Just Keep Pedaling

For most of us, we lived through pandemic teaching and are now faced with students’ educational, social, and emotional gaps in learning. As is fitting in this second edition, the end of each chapter includes a section titled “Post-Pandemic Principles” that provides readers with the honest truth and practical ideas to help move forward from pandemic aftermath.

Chandler also gives readers an inside look into her teaching, references her own children’s learning process during the pandemic era and offers realistic ways to reconnect students, families, and schools towards a successful educational experience for all.

Resources you can easily access and implement

Chandler provides us with many take-aways that can instantly be implemented in any classroom. The book gives examples of lessons, charts, and support materials based on the Core SEL Competencies. The activities are engaging for students and enjoyable to teach, and satisfy an urgent and unavoidable need for the social-emotional support of our students.

Some of my favorites include the Cruella: Identity and Resilience lesson, the One Word Challenge, the Playlist activity and the Metacognitive Minute. The book’s support materials and handouts are available as a free download here. And what teacher doesn’t like FREE things?

“It’s like having a professional conversation”

I particularly enjoyed reading Chandler’s narratives as she explained her classroom SEL experiences. (It was like having a professional conversation with the teacher next door!)

One idea she shared is called Restorative Circles. This circle activity focuses on facilitating questions used as a check-in with students, promoting conversations among peers about social topics important to them, and addressing the particular emotional needs of middle schoolers.

Restorative Circles start by establishing or reviewing norms for the group. Conversation starters can be chosen ahead of time or created on-the-spot, depending on the check-in round of sharing. Typically, using a talking piece is important so all are invited to share and every voice is heard.

The facilitator, usually a teacher, will begin by asking a question or conversation starter. The talking piece is passed around the circle, and students share their thoughts. Some topics can be sensitive for students, so confidentiality is expected. What is said in the circle, stays in the circle!

Taking Restorative Circles a step further, Chandler introduces her idea of “bubbles” to us in chapter seven. This idea takes the original circle and breaks it down into smaller circles, or bubbles, to hold quick conversations; these are still based on a topic which uses a student facilitator – instead of the teacher – and a talking piece. She uses phrases like “Break into your bubbles now” or “POP!” to return to their seats. Chandler reminds readers to make sure the groups are fluid to ensure all students have a chance to interact with each other throughout the year.

Our middle school implemented Circles a few years ago in our homebase classes. We have seen our community of learners become more connected with their peers and empathetic to others’ challenges. They are a way to build supportive relationships within our learning community. I am excited to try her “bubbles” strategy this school year!

Individualizing SEL in your classroom

What else does this type of learning provide students? It provides our students with a safe place to learn, a caring adult, and an advocate for EVERY child. Chandler challenges us to think about how teachers would measure SEL. Her answer? “We cannot standardize SEL.”

Her approach of “seeing every learner” is the essence of what we do each and every day in our classrooms. Teachers can use these activities as a window into our learners and their emotional needs, and then provide acknowledgement and support as needed. “The most magical moments and milestones can’t be measured in a way that would satisfy a rubric.”

So do yourself (and the teacher next door) a favor.
Read the book.
Try the activities.
Watch the magic happen in your classroom!

Jenni Kramer is an ELA teacher at Horizon Middle School in Bismarck, ND. She holds an MSEd degree and has 25 years of teaching experience. She has served on ND Literacy Councils, led staff training, and provided sessions at local, state, and national educational conferences. Kramer has earned educational awards for her work with literacy and teaching, along with recent publications on the topic of teacher-librarian collaboration. Follow her HMS Literacy Lounge on Twitter @jennikramer1231.


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