Social and Emotional Learning Part 5 of 5: Responsible Decision-Making


Responsible decision-making is the fifth of the five components of social and emotional learning (SEL). (Click on the links for teaching strategies designed to support your students with the other four components of SEL including: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills.)

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), defines responsible decision-making as: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

Strictly for the sake of argument, if I had to choose just one of the components of SEL, I would propose that responsible decision-making is the most critical component for our students – here’s why:

As humans, our brains aren’t fully developed until around age 25. Those of us over 25 rely on the prefrontal cortex (the “rational” part of the brain) to make sound, responsible decisions. However, research shows children, teens, and young adults use the amygdala - the “emotional” or “reactionary” part of the brain to make decisions. Because the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala is still a work in progress for young people, our students often base their judgements on their emotions, rather than considering long-term consequences.

The good news, though, is that we can help students strengthen the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala – here’s how:

  • Open the lines of communication about the power of our choices with this entertaining 5-minute Kid President video.
  • Explicitly teach students about the potential consequences (positive and negative) of their actions with the SODAS decision-making model. SODAS is an acronym that stands for situation, options, disadvantages, advantages, solution.
  • Give your students the opportunity to reflect on the roles they played in past or current experiences involving conflict and decision-making. This worksheet encourages critical thinking by asking questions such as: What happened? Describe the facts using all 5 senses. What was your internal response to the situation? What is significant about what happened? How was this important to you? What are the implications for the future? What are your next steps?
  • Use academic content to challenge your students to think critically about their own morals and ethics. For example, examining and discussing the roles of historical figures and characters from novels, as well as people involved with current events can provide valuable teaching moments
  • Link students’ choices and actions with their future goals. Ask students to make a list of their favorite classes, hobbies, and other preferred activities. Have students consider career opportunities of interest that align with their lists. Give students time to research the education, training, and other commitments involved with their career choices. Discuss how the choices they make today will impact their future goals (both positively and negatively).

Interested in learning more about fostering responsible decision-making among your students? Registration for our new course Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum opens soon! Until then, head to our blog archives for classroom strategies to support your students with self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills.

Did you read the rest of the series?

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 1 of 5: Self-Management Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 2 of 5: Self-Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 3 of 5: Social Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 4 of 5: 5 Strategies to Improve Relationship Skills in the Classroom

Additional Resources


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Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin. 

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