What does it mean for an SEL program (Social and Emotional Learning) to be flexible?

On-Size-Fits-All vs. Flexible

  1. One-size-fits-all teaching approach is designed for transformation of knowledge.
  2. One-size-fits-all teaching approach means the variables are constant and controlled (Math and Science).
  3. Emotions are not controlled variables, therefore SEL needs a flexible teaching approach.
  4. Inquiry-based teaching approach allows for
  5. SEL rooted in inquiry-based instruction allow for personalized/flexible SEL.
  6. Culture, nationality, personality, access to resources and necessities, physical safely, financial or food security, language, customs and environment are not controlled variables.

The idiom one-size-fits-all describes an item, situation, or policy designed to accommodate a large amount of people. Something that is one-size-fits-all will not be an exact fit and is not tailored for every circumstance, but it will suffice.

One-Size-Fits-All vs. Flexible

One Size Fits All Teaching and Transformation of Knowledge


Think about the math equation 9 + 9. Teaching this equation is straightforward.  The numbers are constant. The method for solving the equation is controlled. No matter where you are when you solve the problem, how old you are or what time of day you solve this problem, the answer is always going to be 18. This is an example of problem solving that has certainty, regardless of who is solving it. This type of teaching doesn’t require flexibility.


What about learning science vocabulary? Or science formulas? The definitions and formulas in science curricula are a constant. The answers don’t change based on the nationality, age, life experience or the cultural norms of the teacher or the student. The transformation of knowledge or answer will always be the same. The outcomes and the solutions won’t vary regardless of who the teacher or the learner is.

One Size Fits All means Constant and Controlled Variables

When all the variables of an equation are constant, the solution to the problem doesn’t change. As long as there is a lesson and a teacher, anyone solving the problem will come up with the correct answer.

Flexible Curriculum and Teaching Approach

Emotions are NOT Controlled Variables

What about when the variables are not constant? Like someone’s emotions? Or their personality? Or their past life experiences?

Happy, angry, embarrassed, anxious, stressed – all of these emotions are personal to each person.

Culture, nationality, access to resources and necessities. physical safely, financial or food security, language, customs and environment are all important variables when teaching about social and emotional intelligence and require a flexible curriculum and teaching approach.

Inquiry-based Instruction

For an SEL program to be flexible enough to apply to each learner, the SEL program must use instructional practices rooted in inquiry. Inquiry based instruction allows for the most important variable to be personalized.

The backbone of an effective SEL program must begin with each learner. When the teacher uses a question as the entry point into the instruction, the lesson becomes centered on each learner. The learner identifies what causes them to have certain emotions… then common strategies, techniques and language can be applied to provide consistency in reflection and problem-solving initiates.

Instructional practices rooted in inquiry is the foundation for equipping students with social and emotional intelligence.

Effective SEL initiatives must be flexible

Understanding one’s emotions, managing emotions, and communicating effectively varies for each person. Effective SEL initiatives must be flexible to take into account each individual’s culture, norms, communities and life experiences.

An effective a SEL program or framework requires teacher training. Role Modeling, demonstration and active learning empowers teachers in the recognition that:

  • understanding, managing, and self-regulating emotions
  • communicating effectively
  • building relationships

is not a one-size -fits-all process.

Since social and emotional learning is specific to each learner, flexibility is imperative in order to achieve successful outcomes.

Is your SEL program or framework designed to be
personal and flexible for each learner?

In sixth grade, Sierra received a text message identifying her as the slashed figure in the drawing above.

Jill Brown
Founder and President
Generation Text Online
Phone: 781-820-6629
Jill. Brown@GenerationTextOnline.com