Written by Casey Keyser, MSEA Third Grade Teacher

The teacher world loves to have new “buzz words” as the educational pendulum swings from side to side. I know that a lot of people have heard the term social and emotional learning and/or SEL in the last couple of years. But this is not a new concept, it’s just now becoming more of a widely known term.

Thankfully, this has made educators, administrators, families, and the community more aware of the need our students have to be more mentally fit when it comes to learning about emotions and how to deal with social situations.

When you starting as a new teacher or if you are new to teaching SEL, remember that building relationships in the classroom are key! You must first teach a child they are loved before they can be ready to learn everything else. If a child knows they belong, they will be more receptive to learning academics, social skills, emotional regulation and everything you teach them.

What is something you do to build relationships with your students? The beginning of school is right around the corner, some closer than others, so this is a great time to start building classroom community and those connections with your students and families!

Before your students even step foot into your classroom, you have an opportunity to set up a warm and welcoming space for your students to learn in. The classroom environment is a great way to let your students know they belong in your classroom and it’s important they have the tools needed to help identify their emotions and how to regulate them when situations arise. I love these emotions posters from @creativeschooldaze are a great resource to hang up around your room and to use in a calming/peace corner.


Emotions posters


When a student does show their emotions in school, it’s very important to be able to recognize and celebrate them (even the difficult emotions). We all have them and it’s important to teach them that every emotion is okay to have, but it is the way you react to those emotions that really matter.

It is vital for all teachers to know that a child’s behavior is a form of communication. They might not have the vocabulary yet to express how they are feeling and a child may sometimes use unwanted behaviors to show you because they don’t know any other way. Behavior is communication. What are your students trying to tell you that you might be missing?

Make sure you are never asking a child at that moment, “What’s wrong?” Instead tell them, “I can see that you are upset and I want you to know that I am here for you when you are ready to talk.” This is the perfect time to ask them if they would like to visit the calming corner in your classroom.




Ways to promote a safe and welcoming classroom

Check-in with each and EVERY one of your students every day. Use their name. Greeting them when they walk through the door is a positive way to start off their school day. I like to have a “Morning Greeting” poster with each of my students to use during the morning meeting. They simply choose the greeting they would like as we walk around in a class circle and say, “Good Morning, __(name)___!” Here are some of the options I give:

    • High five
    • Secret Handshake
    • Chicken Wing
    • Dance move
    • Fist bump
    • Smile
    • Wave
    • Hug

Next up, I like to start my day with a restorative circle or morning meeting. The games or activities that I enjoy doing best to start the day off right are things that will wake up my student’s brains and get them talking with each other to build those relationships.

A must-have in every classroom is a place a student can go if they need a minute to be with their thoughts or time to process an emotion. This is NOT a timeout area. This is not somewhere you send kids if they aren’t displaying appropriate school behavior, this space should be a respected space in the classroom that is available when a child needs it.

Setting up a Calming Corner is easy and fun to create. Pick a spot around your classroom that has a little nook or space that is safe. I use it under my countertop, it is private up still open for me to be able to see the student. I found a couple of pillows and a soft blanket to lay on the ground. I bought a lap desk to hold all of the materials a student can use for their time there. Lastly, I place our breathing strategies and emotions posters on the wall next to the corner. This way they can refer to them while visiting the area. I will list the items I put in my calming center and you can find a longer list of links here as well.

    • Lap desk
    • Pillows
    • Calming ocean scene posters
    • Blanket
    • Fidgets
    • Calming timer light
    • 5-minute sand timer
    • Digital timer
    • Playdoh
    • Bubbles
    • Coloring books & crayons
    • Sensory bin items (sandpaper, fabric, cotton balls, etc.)
    • Legos
    • Squishy plush toys
    • Seguin sliders
    • Calming music on an old iPod & headphones
    • Lava lamp bottles for shaking up and watching

I also make student bags to send home with each child so they can set up a corner in their own bedroom or home. I call it the “On the Go: Peaceful Practices” It is a little bag full of the same type of items. This year I am sending home a coloring book, crayons, playdoh minis, bubbles and a bubble breathing poster to hang on their wall. The students really love setting up their own spot in their houses and come back to school the next day and tell me all about it. I want them to use the same practices we use here in their real-life settings as well. If you would like this FREEBIE printable of the Peaceful Practice gift bag sign and one bubble breathing poster, check it out here. Be on the lookout for the Peaceful Practice Bundle coming soon!




Another great FREE resource to use is printing your own Zen doodling sheets for students to do when they need a moment to themselves or after they finish their classroom or an assessment.

Always remember… the best thing you can do for your student is to show up for them each and every day.

Lastly, I always want to share with you the love I have for books. I read my class a read-aloud each day of the school year and a lot of time I introduce SEL books. Here are eight of my favorites and you can find them on these linked lists!


Great Eight SEL Books to check out!




Bello the Cello By: Dennis Matthew

The Bad Seed By: Jory John

Our Class is a Family By: Shannon Olsen

What Should Darla Do? By: Adir Levy and Ganit Levy – These amazing authors also shared this amazing FREE resource with me to share with you all! Check it out here!

The Invisible Boy By: Trudy Ludwig

The Boy with the Big Big Feelings By: Britney Winn Lee

B is for Breathe By: Melissa Munro Boyd

Riley the Brave By: Jessica Sinarski



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Casey Keyser is a third-grade teacher at Butterfly Ridge Elementary in Frederick County, Maryland. She was recently recognized as the national winner of the NEA Foundation’s 2021 Teaching in Excellence Award. Casey is the proud owner of the Education Resource Blog, Fair Winds Teaching, and loves to connect with her education community through her TeacherPayTeacher’s business.

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