Selling SEL to Students: Not Just Another Poster | Harbord & Khan | 4 Min Read

September 15, 2022

Schools are fractured and many of our students are fractured. Summer should have been a time to regenerate and rest, but for many depressed by the sad state of the U.S. with more violence and attacks in schools, it may have been a time for despair. What will it take to change the laws and actually protect our students and teachers? 

Imagine you are 14 years old—how does your world look? Global economies crashing, a world pandemic, crazy or sick people with guns killing students and teachers, climate change, the war in Ukraine, droughts, famines, and water shortages—grim doesn’t even start to describe how so many feel about our world. The question to school boards, Education Departments, and parents is to stop and look at the situation. We have a crisis with our young people and it is not going away. Let our school communities know we are listening. How can we change this landscape to provide hope for change?

Does the answer lie in the neglected SEL posters on your wall? We think not. Students should understand that exploring SEL, especially in the context of real-world issues, will enhance their personal development. It can be a powerful framework for change and teaching students to regulate their emotions but is often undervalued and considered an optional extra. One way of providing a new angle to support learning, engage students, and address SEL is to embed meaningful ethical dilemmas into your lessons. An ethical dilemma is a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two courses of action where no matter what a person does, some ethical principle will be compromised. SEL and ethical dilemmas complement each other as emotions and reflective choices and actions (affecting the self and others), and are often integral parts of both. Another way to bring your posters to life is to show students what SEL principles look like in life beyond the classroom.

Classroom Activity

Share and discuss these comments from professionals and experts exemplifying SEL in real-life situations with your students:

Self-awareness — To recognize your emotions and how they impact your behavior; acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses to better gain confidence in your abilities. Jared Della Valle, architect and developer reflects on the importance of communicating feelings and developing instincts: 

“By its nature architectural education encourages open-minded thinking, often initiating the discourse by ensuring that the question that is being asked is the right one; we learn to frame the problem. We also learn how to take risks and defend ideas/speculations that have no truly correct answer. We learn to articulate our feelings and build our instincts and to design spaces that accurately reflect the aspirations/utility of the places we wish to inhabit.”

Self-management — To take control and ownership of your thoughts, emotions, and actions in various situations, as well as setting and working toward goals. Astronaut Paul Lockhart identifies the importance of regulating emotions in challenging situations: 

“For astronauts, the courage to ride a thundering rocket and accelerate from 0 to 17,500 miles per hour has been instilled in them throughout their lives by the numerous other acts of courage they have displayed; the courage to believe they could be an astronaut, the courage to do the hard work to develop the skills and talents necessary to successfully fly in space and the courage to remain calm and believe in yourself when strapping in the spacecraft for the final countdown.”

Social awareness — The ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person who may be from a different background or culture from the one you grew up with. Act with empathy and in an ethical manner within your home, school, and community. Artist Linda Weil highlights the importance of respecting diverse communities and behaving ethically: 

“Respect is essential for trust in art. You must hold respect for cultures and the environment. Although I may be influenced by a specific artist or natural object you cannot copy but must innovate.”

Relationship skills — The ability to build and maintain healthy relationships with people from a diverse range of backgrounds. This competency focuses on listening to and being able to communicate with others, peacefully resolving conflict, and knowing when to ask for or offer help. Abeer Seikaly, artist, architect, and cultural producer emphasizes the importance of relationship skills: 

“The solution cannot be to impose shelter on a community but to develop the design with communities. This empowering, participatory process enhances skills and rebuilds social interaction, and cultivates wellbeing. In this context architecture and design becomes a social and cultural practice.”

Making responsible decisions — Choosing how to act or respond to a situation based on learned behaviors such as ethics, safety, weighing consequences, and the well-being of others, as well as yourself. Jared Della Valle, architect and developer discusses the positive impact of his Recess Assembly project: 

“Recess takes court-involved youth and diverts them out of the court system through arts education. Over 150 young adults have been diverted out of the court system and many maintain a relationship with the organization to mentor the incoming class of young adults. It is incredibly rewarding to have a direct impact on someone’s life.” 

By showing our students what SEL looks like in the real world through dynamic role models we hope to communicate its relevance and value to their personal growth and emotional resilience. SEL is more than just a poster on the wall. Can we inspire school boards and other stakeholders to make it more visible to our students by embedding it into aspirational principles such as our school mission, vision, and values? 


Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2022). Advancing social and emotional learning. Casel. Retrieved September 8, 2022, from

Harbord, M. J., & Khan, S. R. (2020). INTERDISCIPLINARY THINKING FOR SCHOOLS: Ethical dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3. JOHN CATT EDUCATIONAL LTD.

(All excerpts from our book: Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools – Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2. “9781913808686”. Apple Books.)

Harbord and Khan

Meredith Harbord EdD and Sara Riaz Khan are global educators who use ethical dilemmas to enrich and transform curriculum. Their student centric approach is driven by an ethical model and innovative tools that support critical thinking and creativity. Meredith and Sara’s collaboration as Design teachers at ABA Oman International School in Muscat, focused on sustainability, ethical design and global mindedness and inspired them to establish Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants. They develop units of work based on real world issues to engage and challenge students for diverse curriculums (IB, PBL, Common Core and Australian) and are available for professional development and to create programs to meet the specific needs of your school. Meredith and Sara have authored two teacher curriculum books ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (2020). Website:

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