Written By: Heather Thomas & Kristin Mize
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” – Aristotle Philosopher

What kind of humans do we want our youngsters to be upon graduation? If you can think about social-emotional learning (SEL) from this perspective, it’s easier to imagine integrating it into our teaching practices and personal lives. In fact, after reading this post, I bet you will discover that you’re already doing it, whether you’re an educator, a caregiver or both. 

Social-emotional learning means that we see the child holistically. Every child has a purpose. They have interests. They have feelings. It also means that students need to be able to function in the real world. They need to be kind, respectful, know how to communicate, have a solid work ethic, take responsibility for their actions, have cultural competence, work well with others, have confidence, act with empathy, and understand the value of service. 

Social-emotional learning is not a separate component from curriculum, our teaching practices, or how we parent. It is an integral and natural part of all of these spaces. 

The pandemic has forced us to pivot into a digital teaching and learning environment. While this may work for some, many are missing the socialization connected with in person learning. This requires us to be intentional about social-emotional learning in our teaching, parenting, and personal lives now more than ever. Together, we are all learning how to build bonds and reimagine community from a digital perspective. 

SEL in the Classroom

Erie, PA – Virtual Small Bites Program

The foundation of SEL is cultivating a safe environment. It all starts with the teacher. Imagine preparing a garden for seedlings that you hope will flourish into beautiful full grown sunflowers. Here are some things educators can do to foster a nourishing and safe environment in their digital teaching spaces so that bonds can begin to form and students can feel like they are a part of a community.

  1. Check In on how you’re checking in! – At the start of each class, greet students by their name as they enter the virtual space. Next, have them begin on an intentional and structured check in activity. Think of this time as a space where students can set their intention for the day, share their thoughts and emotions, and engage in conversations with one another. This is a great way to build empathy at the start of a class.
  2. Create active learning experiences – Craft activities so students are engaged and want to participate. Encourage students to keep their cameras on and go on “mini” scavenger hunts in their learning area. For example, have students find an item close to them and have them share and explain its meaning. Students can use text, speech, or images to communicate.
  3. Be present, but not overly present! – Instead of always having the camera on yourself, communicate with and amongst your students in “gallery mode.” This will allow the students to see their classmate and create an environment for thoughtful and intentional conversations.
  4. The Two M’s: Mindfulness & Movement – Explain and model strategies related to mindfulness so students can learn how to effectively reduce stress and manage their emotions. Find an appropriate time to also incorporate mini movement activities throughout the day to get students up, moving, and active. Active bodies build stronger minds!

At Common Threads, we have seen our virtual classrooms drastically transform over the past twelve months. Online learning, something that used to be a foreign concept to many of our chef instructors, is now a well oiled machine that strives to make our students feel safe, supportive, and welcomed. By investing in training and development of our staff, we ensured we would be prepared to support the social and emotional wellbeing of our students each time they logged online. 

“Common Threads has become so much more than a cooking program for my students. In the two years since it has been introduced, my students have developed relationship skills, social awareness, and teambuilding skills that they will carry with them their entire lives. This program is so much more than we originally intended. We could not be more happy with how it has helped our students flourish into becoming the best version of themselves. I will continue to pass on these lessons to my students every year as I Teach these lessons that bring us together. Food has been a way to make us a family. “ – Jennifer Otero, Teacher | PS 66 Brooklyn
SEL at Home

New York Virtual Small Bites Program

Social-emotional learning doesn’t just apply to the classroom. It happens in the home environment, as well. Chores, play, and family time all have components of social-emotional learning. Whether caregivers are now working from home or continue to work in person, a majority of them have had to play a role in helping their children navigate the virtual landscape. While the convergence of school, work, and family time presents its own set of challenges, it also lends a great opportunity for more intentional family time. And guess what is an unsuspecting place for this family time to occur? The kitchen!

Since launching our Virtual Cooking Programs, Common Threads has seen firsthand how it is possible to bring families and communities together in the virtual world. Along with teaching our participants how to prepare healthy and nutritious meals, we show them how it’s possible to make the kitchen the focal point of SEL in the family home. We also reiterate the importance of involving your whole family in the cooking process. From storytelling about favorite family recipes, to setting the dinner table, and everything in between, gathering together in the kitchen is a special place where we can all learn. For example, toddlers can help measure, elementary kids can help stir, chop, etc., and all kids can help with meal planning, picking the recipes, and setting the table.

“Infusing mindfulness into virtual cooking classes by prompting kids and parents to use all their senses, allows me to engage them in the virtual space and make the experience more about them reveling in the process of learning instead of simply listening and repeating” – Mimi Chacin, Chef Instructor
Adult SEL

Meditation with Shante Haymore-Kearney

Adult social-emotional learning is important as well. In fact, adults must “put the oxygen mask on themselves first” before they can take care of others. Similar to our children, there are many important things adults need to thrive. As adults, we must keep our own social and emotional wellbeing top of mind. It’s important to consider and ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. Do you feel connected to your purpose through your work? Make it a habit to set short-term and long-term goals while you engage in your work. Make these goals visible, and practice journaling to reflect on positive experiences from each day. This is a great way to practice gratitude. 
  2. How can you establish a healthy life-work balance? When it’s quitting time, unplug and be present. Set calendar dates for “You” time, family time, play time, social time, exercise, or whatever it is that helps you recharge. It’s important to put yourself at the top of your to-do list even if it feels uncomfortable at first.
  3. Are you being mindful of your body, feelings, and emotions? Start your day with an intention. Throughout the day, remember to slow down and check in on yourself. When you’re doing everyday things like eating, walking, or engaging with others, keep your intention top of mind.
  4. Are you allocating time for your social health? The pandemic has taken a lot of social aspects away from adults. Weddings, graduations, happy hours, celebrations, and holidays. Our feeling of community has gone virtual. Facebook, Instagram, Live streaming, FaceTime, and Zoom have replaced in person interactions. There is a direct connection between social health and your overall well-being.

Wherever you live, work, learn or play, it is important that you feel supported, empowered, and valued. Prioritizing adults in SEL in these spaces requires that you build your expertise and skills to lead SEL initiatives, as well as intentionally practice self-care. 

Since last year, we have all been forced to get creative and to adapt to the new normal. This circles back to who we want our kids to be as they grow into adults. We want to be able to adapt to difficult situations. We want them to be problem solvers. We want them to be happy. We want them to thrive! It’s important that we acknowledge and recognize that social-emotional learning is not just for our children, it’s for everyone. I hope you can find some time to recognize the ways you might already be incorporating social-emotional learning into your life, and if not, hopefully this blog has inspired you to be intentional in how we interact at home, in the classroom, and with ourselves. 

Want to learn more about social-emotional learning? Take a look at the resource list below:


Common Threads is a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. We equip under-resourced communities with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn, and play. We know that food is rooted in culture and tradition so we promote diversity in our lessons and recipes, encouraging our participants to celebrate the world around them.