Using SEL in Your Classroom to Connect With Your School, Families and Community

By Jennifer Lundsten

Jennifer Lundsten
Classroom Champions


The world is rushing at our little people. They are being pushed to take in more than many children are ready to internalize. TV, video games, social media, the evening news, family problems, a world pandemic and interacting with friends. How can we teach them to slow down, to take a breath and to just enjoy being an active child, when the world is always rushing to push them faster and faster? Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is giving students the tools they need to survive and thrive in an adult-driven world. SEL is teaching students the importance of processing all the hard things that are being thrown at them daily.

We all have heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” It seems that in our school communities this has never been more true or more important. The village our children are raised in consists of three main influences: families, community and our schools. As Classroom Champions teachers, we are fortunate to be able to add Classroom Champions and our athlete mentors to our villages, and access to the phenomenal resources to help our little people. As teachers, we see the increasing need for students to develop social-emotional skills as we struggle to support and reach these little human beings who don’t have the skills to handle the struggles of daily life. Their struggles are coming into our classrooms and affecting their learning and behavior. Families, communities and schools can each influence a child on their own, or we can bring all of these components together to build a more comprehensive experience for our children to grow in.

The village our children are raised in consists of three main influences: families, community and our schools. As Classroom Champions teachers, we are fortunate to be able to add Classroom Champions and our athlete mentors to our villages, and access to the phenomenal resources to help our little people.

Let’s take a minute to look at each of these influences on our children. Communities are working to bring back normalcy for their members while still facing a diversity of world issues plaguing our thoughts. Schools and teachers are working to rebuild relationships, curriculum, and educational growth in students while still dealing with the challenges our society is facing. Teachers are on heightened alert, watching and supporting students as mental wellness is a priority. And parents. Let’s be honest, as parents, we are struggling ourselves to navigate through this new world of global pandemic, stress, and fears while guiding our children through the same experiences.

One of the most effective tools we have as Classroom Champion teachers is our athlete mentors. Our athlete mentors are mastering the social and emotional skills to train and compete at an elite level on a world stage. Not to mention them giving their time, energy, and experiences to our students so that they have the role models they need to succeed themselves. It is now that we benefit the most in joining together as a village to provide our students with a safe environment. It is teachers that are the common factor to bring all of these influences together as tools to help our students strive and thrive by giving them the socio-emotional foundation to grow into their future selves.

So how do we pull all of these people together to build a safe, supportive community for our students? Here are a few tips and ideas for connecting our SEL goals, athlete mentors, families, and school communities together in your Classroom Champions programming to build a village for your students.

How to Bring Your Community Into Your Classroom

The Community unit usually comes up around the holidays, which leads to some amazing community projects. Our athlete mentors send their lesson videos to us teaching the importance of community and issue our students the monthly challenge. Take that challenge! Expand it into a community effort.

Think of a group in your area that needs support outside of the school: nursing and medical professional; food banks and churches; families in need. One of the most successful community projects my class has done was a bake sale.

Community Project Ideas:

Bake Sale Project

The students baked at home with their families. We sold our baked goods at recess breaks to the other students in the school. We collected money or non-perishable food items as payment for the baked good so that we could reach all students in the school. The students then took the food to the community food bank. The money was used by the students to buy toys at a local store. We donated those toys to the Ronald McDonald House Toy Drive and a local church.

Animal Shelter Project

One year we even donated dog and cat food as some students were inspired to help the animals in our community. As a class, we brought together parents, our school community, and multiple community groups in need during the holiday season.

Run your own Community Project! FREE DOWNLOAD!

This toolkit will help students come together as a school community in a month-long canned food drive to collect and donate non-perishable food items to support local families in need during the holiday season.

This FREE resource includes:

  • Timelines: We’ve done the work for you on how to implement in your school so you can take a week-by-week approach to accomplishing this goal.
  • Announcement Resources: Create awareness around the school by sending out letters and hanging up posters!
  • Collection Bin Signage: Give your collection bins a cohesive look and the students a way to be proud of all they’ve collected!
  • Goal Tracker: Make a goal and keep track of your collection progress.

Download 20+ pages of resources to support giving back to your Community from your classroom.

Download the toolkit here

Not in the Classroom Champions Community? Bringing community involvement into your classroom is still easy to do! Not all kids realize they can actually make a difference. When kids understand they have the power to directly impact the place they live, they are empowered to dream big and be a change-agent. You have the power to give them that opportunity to see that in themselves.

Make Technology Your Friend with Flip

If COVID has given me one benefit in my classroom, it is that my students and I now embrace technology for communication. Flip has become a tool that we used regularly in the classroom to communicate with each other as teacher and students. It also became a way to connect to our athlete mentor.

As a Mentorship+ teacher, you now have a dedicated Flip space with your Athlete Mentor! (Updated: August 2023!)

The students loved using the video program to record individual videos where they could speak directly to our mentor. Many said more on the videos to the athlete than they would ever dare to share in class with their classmates.

Not in the classroom Champions Community? Flipgrid or other digital communication tools can be so useful in helping kids communicate how they feel or how they’re doing emotionally. You likely deal with a wide range of personalities, but they have a commonality: They all know and understand communicating digitally. Having trouble with a certain group opening up? Try a digital tool!

Connect with Home

Again, technology is an amazing thing to communicate with parents at home. I sent the student-created Flip videos home to parents. I share all of my Google activities from the athlete reveal to the Goal Setting unit to Olympic projects with families. Families have full access to our Classroom Champion learning and can use the information I send home to enhance conversations with their children. Parents often need prompts or tools to help reach their children as they sit around the dinner table or take those daily drives to sporting events. As teachers, we can provide parents with the openings to connect to their children with these Family Activities and videos.

Help Your Athlete Become a Real Person

Meeting our athlete mentor LIVE, whether in person or through ZOOM, is always the highlight of the year. The students quickly realize how real our athlete is and how important the relationship is for both the students and the athlete. The more you get to know your athlete as the teacher, the more rewarding the experience for the students. My students love to connect with the athletes through my social media (Facebook and Twitter). I post the messages and pictures on social media, and the students get so excited when our athlete replies, sends updates, or photos from home.

We were lucky enough to have Sam Effah as our athlete mentor before he started his Amazing Race Canada journey. Sam’s adventure led to the perfect opportunity to hold our own Amazing Race to end the school year. This past June, we held our own mini Summer Olympics to connect the big events happening in Tokyo to our small town. And you can’t forget the pets! The kids love learning all about the athletes’ pets and seeing their favorite pets live on camera.

Build a Mindfulness Routine

Last year our athlete mentor Jane Channel demonstrated her favorite breathing technique to the students in her monthly video. We used this as a jumping-off point. My students created an anchor chart that hung in the classroom all year reminding them of Jane’s technique and we began to incorporate mindfulness breaks into our daily routine. We started using the phrase, “Jane says to …”. Our mindfulness breaks included turning off the lights and breathing to a guided meditation.

We also keep a gratitude journal to remind ourselves of the good things that happen in our lives. I send the gratitude notes home to parents as well, so they can take a minute to appreciate the small things that make a positive influence in their child’s day. Mindfulness and gratitude has become a simple way to emphasize positivity in a world that often seems drowning in negativity.

Sadly, too many of our students don’t wake up to a smiling face or a warm hug each morning. Teachers and athlete mentors have the platform and tools to connect with these students and all students. To pull them into a village of people who want to see them strive and thrive as children now and adults in the future. If our students are a reflection of what they see and hear in their daily lives, then it is our responsibility as teachers to bring together families, communities and the school community. It is our responsibility to connect and balance the most influential parts of our students’ lives providing an opportunity for safety and growth.

Read about more Mindful Tips here:

Not in the Classroom Champions Community? You can access the entire goal setting unit for free by accessing the free trial here!

Jennifer Lundsten is a grade 2/3 teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada where she and her husband are raising their own 2 school aged sons. She has been teaching for over 18 years in kindergarten to grade 8 classrooms and has been using the Classroom Champions programming in her elementary classroom for the past 4 years.