Helping School Counselors Develop Social-Emotional Learning Through Simulations

December 5, 2022

By Nick Kovalcik & Danielle Miller

Despite being linked to long-term academic and professional achievement, social and emotional learning frequently goes unnoticed in U.S. public schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of providing children with social and emotional assistance. In this time of crisis, educators have also looked for new connections to make and have rethought how students may collaborate actively to learn.

Implementing a curriculum that promotes children’s intellectual and social-emotional growth is crucial. Regarding social and emotional skills, attitudes toward oneself and others, positive social behavior, conduct issues, emotional distress, and academic performance, social-emotional learning (SEL) promotes favorable results. Despite what the evidence suggests and what we as educators instinctively understand from our daily work, social and emotional development has long been perceived as a gaping hole in American public schools. In light of the demands placed on academic content education, teachers are concerned about whether they will have the time, funds, and access to professional learning necessary to conduct high-quality SEL instruction.

Promoting the Implementation of SEL

What part do professionals who work with students in student support play in promoting social and emotional learning (SEL) in middle and high schools? Promoting SEL is often an additional duty that school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other SSPs have in addition to their extensive responsibilities. Furthermore, we know that time restrictions are frequently the environment for SEL interventions in middle and high school.

The implementation of SEL needs to be more than just the responsibility of teachers. Regarding what students can accomplish in class, we must be realistic. There typically requires more time for thorough skill building, whether with individuals, groups, or schools. This might result in a rush to finish everything quickly, leaving pupils needing more in-depth help when returning to class. This has the consequence of casting a shadow around SEL interventions and those who carry them out.

Fortunately, certain institutions have identified crucial positions that fit many SSPs’ hectic schedules. School psychologists, counselors, and other student support specialists can help in three critical ways.

1. Be a Member of a Leadership Group

SSPs can serve in leadership positions on committees interested in SEL thanks to their expertise in child and adolescent development and group facilitation. These could foster good character, improve school atmosphere and culture, or combat bullying. For instance, counselors, the school social worker, and the school psychologist might advise or direct training for teachers and staff on trauma-sensitive practices.

Counselors could establish a committee at school to introduce service learning to all age levels. To best match the sorts of service learning with specific grade levels, a school psychologist or counselor would be well-equipped to discuss the various age groups’ emotional and social developmental phases.

Simulations are a great tool to add to your leadership groups. Simulations are proven to improve judgment and decision-making so that school counselors are ready for the challenges of the job. It is essential in the field to have open conversations and provide guidance and support to the current and aspiring leaders of the counseling profession. School counselors are leaders, advocates, collaborators, and educators – roles that often intertwine and coincide. Simulations also touch on trauma-sensitive subjects and assist in direct training to support school social workers and psychologists in addition to counselors.

2. Help Adults Gain Knowledge About SEL

Staff members may be familiar with SEL and related subjects in many schools, but they have yet to begin implementation into the schoolwide curriculum. We know that greater sustainability is associated with workers’ deep understanding of SEL. 

While SEL films and brief articles for nontechnical readers can serve as valuable beginnings, more comprehensive training and assistance are required for sustainability. SSPs can be crucial in creating a realistic plan to advance individual groups’ understanding of SEL.

Simulations create a safe environment for counselors to learn more about SEL and gain experience dealing with challenging scenarios. Our Value-Based Leadership simulation is a decision-making experience designed for the conscious application of the virtues guiding your vision and actions as a leader. It is not a test – you are not being evaluated. It is not a tutorial – this is not designed to teach specific applications but rather provide an opportunity to make decisions and reflect on choices in light of how virtue may have been applied.

3. Emphasize Building Strength

SSPs can help facilitate a leadership development group for troubled youth in place of an anger or stress management group. More cooperation will result from framing the group as something that may benefit the school, and you will be able to identify both the group’s strengths and weaknesses in response to inquiries like, “What traits do a good leader have?” and “What makes for a trustworthy leader?”

The student leadership group might then take action, such as addressing environmental problems or working on a project to improve the school.

SSPs can help students learn new skills while also assisting them in honing the ones they already have. This shifts the focus of skill development away from deficit and correction. Helping kids develop objectives focused on a positive goal has been identified as a significant component of effective SEL treatments.

Simulations create a sense of unity between the school staff and other members of the school and community. The main focus is always to build strength through leadership development. Simulations are a great place to seek your group’s strengths and weaknesses and work on them together. Creating better-educated and prepared leaders in a school can translate to helping students succeed. Learning to identify and create positive goals through simulations can significantly help effective SEL.

Developmental Progression

When working with secondary school children, time is a constant consideration. Use the following skill-building developmental process as a guide to target SEL supports and interventions practically and efficiently. In general, the developmental progression is as follows:

  • Self-awareness and self-management (self-awareness and being one’s best self entails purpose, followed by emotional intelligence and self-control).
  • Social intelligence and interpersonal abilities (such as empathy, effective communication, and knowledge of one’s trigger situations).
  • Making ethical decisions and resolving issues (which also includes anticipating and overcoming obstacles).
  • Following this order in SEL interventions and programs is linked to several beneficial outcomes, such as increased student behavior, attendance, and academic performance and decreased use of punitive or exclusionary discipline. 

Create and share your plans with other school staff so they are aware of the details of what you are working on and how they can best support it, whether you are a school psychologist, counselor, or other student support professional, and whatever ways you decide to further contribute to SEL on your campus.

Simulations Impact

Simulations fall under the spectrum of teaching strategies, generally called contextual learning strategies. According to the situated learning theory, learning is social in character and occurs among and between people and materials in real-world settings. According to contextual learning theory, the degree to which a learning opportunity replicates a real-world scenario significantly impacts knowledge acquisition and transfer. Social and emotional learning is more crucial than ever, and we must constantly reevaluate how we help kids thrive and accomplish their goals in a changing technological and social environment.

SchoolSims simulations improve school climate by helping school counselors cultivate the knowledge and skills to navigate difficult real-life situations, which leads to more positive outcomes both in and out of the classroom. The SchoolSims Library of Simulations provides professional development for school counselors covering many SEL topics. Simulations are a series of linked scenarios in a choose-your-own-adventure format, where we use artificial intelligence to direct you down the appropriate path based on your choices. Simulations will assist your staff in developing their experience portfolios in a safe environment through interactive and engaging scenarios. Building experience for current and aspiring school counselors in these SEL topics provides a significant first step into a schoolwide implementation of SEL learning. Explore practice-based simulations that support your district’s social emotional learning efforts.

“The School Counselor and Social/Emotional Development.” The School Counselor and Social/Emotional Development – American School Counselor Association (ASCA),

Elias, Maurice J. “3 Ways School Counselors Can Boost Sel.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 12 Feb. 2019,

Murphy, Kristin M. “Mixed Reality Simulations for Social-Emotional Learning .”, 29 Sept. 2022,

Murphy, Kristin M., and Amy L. Cook. “Mixed Reality Simulations: A next Generation Digital Tool to Support Social-Emotional Learning.” IGI Global, IGI Global, 1 Jan. 1970,

Mixed Reality Simulations for Social-Emotional Learning.