Building responsive and need-based SEL opportunities

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” – Aristotle

Khoj is Apni Shala’s Social-Emotional-Learning-(SEL)-integrated school initiative that runs from K-4 and will expand each year with one grade forward. At Khoj, all grades have a SEL curriculum designed wherein the objective and the learning outcomes developed are age and grade appropriate. At present, the curriculum is formed around the five core competencies of- self-awareness, self-regulation, relationship skills, social awareness and responsible decision making. Each week a total of 1.5 hours is dedicated to the SEL curriculum.

Need-based SEL sessions as a concept emerged from the classroom observations that informed us about what themes were necessary to respond to emerging social-emotional development needs in addition to the designed curriculum. Connecting it to the community context and how that impacts the student’s behavior in a school at interpersonal and intrapersonal levels was one of the nudges to brainstorm and think over the need-based SEL sessions.

The hope is that these sessions build a bridge between the five core SEL core competencies and the context around the students. The SEL competencies become a foundation to be able to practice the skills and themes covered in need-based SEL sessions. The five competencies help us build a foundation whereas the need-based SEL themes become a ground to be able to apply the skills they learn in the weekly curriculum. We see this as a range of modules being developed over time from our experiences with the students, caregivers and feedback from the educators. In the long term, the hope is to also create a ground of support for the team and caregivers based on these modules.

Until now, themes like compassion, empathy, gratitude, self and body image, bullying, communication and social skills, building relationship skills and team building have been explored with Grades 1 to 4 classrooms.

Developmental theories and the lived experiences of the students in their context become an important basis for us as planners and facilitators to decide what themes to go with for each grade. The concept of need-based SEL delivers the support required in the system apart from the regular SEL curriculum that is followed at Khoj. 

Khoj primarily works with communities in the M-east ward in Mumbai including the Lallubhai Compound area, the Gaikwad Nagar and the Limbuni Baug areas of Govandi and Chembur. Our students and their families face socio-economic marginalizations and systemic barriers for various basic needs of nutrition, education and financial opportunities due to insufficient accessible resources. The experiences of intersectional traumas and persisting systemic barriers leads to an urgent need for spaces of emotional and physical wellbeing to  deal with these present challenges in the system. This called for more attention to contextualize the SEL curriculum to help respond to student needs of having safe spaces in the school environment and unpack more deeply their present experiences ( both healthy and unhealthy ones) in addition to learning the SEL competencies. These modules are in the hope that they help our students to develop  resilience and self-regulation strategies for their daily lives-interactions and observations surrounding them and hence providing them alternative options for processing emotions and lived experiences. This allows us to contribute to our vision as Apni Shala Foundation where we aim to build a harmonious co-existence in society.

The Impact of need-based SEL sessions has been captured through different interactions between the students and the team. It has been observed that students had a basic understanding of the modules owing to the routine conversations and the SEL curriculum already in place. The need-based sessions allowed the students to develop a vocabulary and build a connection between the curriculum and day-to-day real-life examples. For eg: During the session plan on bullying, students identified all the situations where they may have seen someone getting bullied or if they have been a bully to someone else. Through these sessions, students were able to reflect and articulate how bullying impacts a person and how different emotions a person goes through when they have been bullied. Students were able to brainstorm  on the solutions to how bullying can be stopped through this we were able to see in the classroom the situations of bullying have been decreased to a lesser extent. 

We share with you some of the classroom conversations that have emerged during these sessions:


“Who do you want to express gratitude towards?”

we asked. And they shared,

“to my X friend because during break time she shares food with me.”

“to Didi as she teaches us every day and we learn due to it.”

“to my xy friend because they have shared a pencil with me so I could write in class.”

Relationship Building

During one of the sessions, students had to reflect on friendships in their life and community around using art. Following prompts were given to them:

“What does friendship mean to you?”

we asked. They said,

“when the person cares for each other, shares things and plays together.”

“friendship means Happiness.”

“staying good with each other not fighting with friends.”

“What things do you consider while doing friendship?”

we asked. Our students said,

“The one who stays with me plays with me, learns with and doesn’t hit me.”

“The one who can play with me.”

Responding to Conflicts

In grade 2, Student A and Student P were in conflict about who would sit on the first bench.

Student A -didi mai pehle Aai hu (Didi, I came first in the class)

Student P – didi mai pehle aai Hu (Didi, I came first in the class)

Teacher – aap log aapas mai decide karo and solution nikalo (You both decided amongst yourselves and find a solution)

Other students in the class – areee Tum log yaad karo na didi ne hamlog ka bataya tha Ki agar conflict hoga tho hamlog kaise solve karte hai uska chart class mai laga hai (Do you all remember what didi had told us about resolving the conflict? She has put a chart on different strategies to solve it.)

Whole class went and started looking at the chart.

Student A – hamlog stone paper scissor khelte hai jo bhi jita vo first bench pe baithega (We will play stone -paper scissor and whoever wins will sit on the bench)

Student B agreed and happily went back.

Resolving Bullying 

“What is bullying and how does it look like?”

we asked. Students said,

… bullying means when somebody troubles each other when the person doesn’t like teasing and still if the other person is teasing them then it is bullying.

When we told students to draw how bullying looks, one student drew a picture where one girl was running because one boy was chasing her. It was bullying according to him. To help the girl and stop the bullying, the police were running behind the boy. He further shared that if anybody bullies someone we can directly call the police and they can help us to catch the one who has been bullying. 

The process involves assessment and evaluation of the needs through observation and conversations with the stakeholders- educators, community development team and caregivers. The plans developed are decided upon the need for the number of sessions in that particular module. For the facilitation, it is ensured that our core values and philosophies of compassion, trust, equity, narrative approach and growth mindset are the base of the plan. The facilitation is based on a multi-modal approach which helps the students to engage with the concept through experiential-based learning. This allows for a holistic interaction of the students with the session.

About the Authors : 

Pooja Badekar is a Grade 1 Teacher at Khoj. She has completed her Diploma in Teachers Education from Bombay Teachers Training College and is currently pursuing  Masters in Arts  from SNDT University. In the past, she has worked with the youth being a facilitator for skill development. Pooja loves singing and enjoys listening to music.

Mausam Nagda is a School Counselor at Khoj. She holds a  PG Dipl in Expressive Arts Therapy from St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous) Mumbai and Masters in Counseling Psychology from SNDT University Churchgate and UGC NET qualified. She works with adults, students, and caregivers for their emotional wellbeing. She loves classical dance and music. 


We would like to acknowledge the contribution of our reviewer – Priyanka Shrivastav for guiding us throughout, Saesha- for peer reviewing our blog, our Khoj Team for being a constant source of support and learning and of course a big thankyou to our students and caregivers for always offering different perspectives to our work and allowing us to unlearn and relearn in this collaborative journey of building a SEL- Integrated school.


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