10 Questions Principals Should Ask Teachers During the Hiring Process to Prioritize Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

By Joshua Bobrow and Brandon Frame

During these challenging times in which gross racial injustice and a pandemic have contributed to our collective trauma, one thing is increasingly clear: high-quality SEL is needed inside our classrooms. SEL articulates asset-based developmental outcomes central to advancing equity and trauma-informed work when implemented intentionally and through an anti-racist lens. Therefore, it is critical and prudent for school leaders to ensure that newly hired teachers are invested in the social-emotional skills they will need in order to grow as educators, can model it themselves, and can integrate it in the classroom.

For a number of reasons, many teachers are not formally exposed to SEL (e.g. not every graduate school program for education prioritizes SEL or a teacher might be coming from a school that didn’t prioritize it)- however, teachers must at least have a willingness to learn about SEL and demonstrate the capacity to teach with SEL in mind. Here are 10 questions that school leaders can ask potential new teachers to ensure that their community fosters resiliency and integrates SEL in all school spaces.


How does your pedagogical philosophy relate to our school’s belief that all learning is social and emotional?

Inquiring about a teacher’s pedagogical philosophy will let you better understand their instructional mindsets and to what extent they have integrated SEL into those mindsets.


How do you consistently model social and emotional skills in and out of the classroom? Provide examples in both instructional and non-instructional spaces.

By posing this question, you can gauge the degree to which a teacher sees themselves as a role model and member of the community in all school spaces.


How do you center relationships with students in your classroom? Provide examples.

Asking this question can help you see how a teacher prioritizes forming trusting relationships, which is the foundation of learning partnerships.


How do you concretely develop social-emotional skills like problem-solving and effective collaboration through your content?

By asking this question, you are better able to gauge the likelihood that higher order thinking and interpersonal skills will be developed in a teacher’s classroom.


How do you view the role of social and emotional skills in your classroom?

By asking a teacher about their view of social and emotional skills and how that impacts the classroom, you’re better able to infer what their teaching and interactions will and won’t include.


What does social-emotional learning mean to you and your teaching?

You want to learn a teacher’s general grasp of SEL and how past experiences have shaped their understanding of the relationship between social-emotional development, teaching, and academic outcomes.


Equity roots more deeply in our school by developing related social-emotional skills like respecting difference and constructive problem-solving. How do social-emotional skills serve equity in your opinion?

Equity and SEL go hand-in-hand, so you should inquire about a teacher’s familiarity with and commitment to equity and SEL, and how the two relate and show up in their classroom.


Take a look at the adult layers of these social-emotional indicators. What are your two strengths and which is your greatest area of development? Tell us about them.

Asking a teacher to respond to specific indicators can illuminate their ability to be reflective and can serve to determine if a teacher’s skills will complement the team’s social-emotional areas of strength and growth.


How do you respond to another teacher who says it’s not their job to teach social and emotional skills through their content?

By asking this question, you can gauge a teacher’s interpersonal skills, persuasive abilities, and to what extent a teacher will be an advocate for SEL integration.


What is your level of comfort to give and receive feedback around social and emotional strengths and areas for growth? Please provide examples of when you’ve effectively given and received feedback.

Feedback is essential to SEL. By asking about it, you can learn about a teacher’s ability to internalize feedback and provide supportive feedback to others around SEL.

School leaders across the country are increasingly prioritizing SEL in the interviewing process

Johanie Hernandez, Principal of the Urban Assembly Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice integrates direct SEL questioning into her interview process to ensure that potential hires have a desire to advance the social-emotional development of students and themselves. Working with the Urban Assembly SEL Team’s Resilient Scholars Program, Principal Hernandez has built a flexible school community where adults genuinely and vulnerably model SEL and harness these skills in young people. This focus has allowed for the school’s climate to flourish and for the law-themed school to advance academic outcomes.

Exploring these 10 questions with potential teacher hires (and adapting them when hiring non-instructional staff) increases your ability to hire someone who is willing to develop their social-emotional skills while implementing them in their classroom. To advance SEL in schools, school leaders should hire staff that is open to feedback, values collaboration, sees opportunities in and beyond the classroom to nurture relationships and be part of a community, and understands that adults have to be willing to evolve alongside our students. We can’t ask our students to do what we ourselves are not willing to do.

Brandon Frame, Director of Social-Emotional Learning at the Urban Assembly
Joshua Bobrow, Deputy Director of Social-Emotional Learning at the Urban Assembly









The Urban Assembly
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