What is social emotional learning (SEL)?
The basis of social emotional learning (SEL) revolves around creating a safe and understanding learning environment for everyone involved.
The current school climate is one that encourages and embraces multiculturalism and diversity, SEL programs therefore work to ensure everyone, regardless of their background, is fully equipped with the resources they need to succeed in both the short and long term.
Implementing social emotional learning as early as possible is integral in aiding children with their overall development as it helps promote social relationships, an ability to show empathy and make responsible decisions. In addition to the skills it teaches children in relation to others, SEL is also integral for self-development as it allows children to develop their own academic, social and emotional understandings.
The social and emotional skills that can be learned not only by children but also by adults ensure the development of well-rounded individuals.
What are the 5 components of social emotional learning?
Social emotional learning is made up largely of five core principles, often referred to as The CASEL 5. The CASEL 5 are five sets of interconnected skills that can be taught on a multitude of different levels; from schools to parents to wider communities, anyone can contribute to a person’s development.
Self-awareness is an integral component of SEL as it ensures individuals have as much control over their own personal feelings, actions and values as possible. Being self-aware is key to understanding oneself, including a full understanding of your own goals as well as your capabilities and limitations which may affect your ability to reach these goals.
Self-management is similar to self-awareness in the sense that the responsibility lies in the hands of the individual. The kinds of skills involved and promoted through self-management include things such as self-motivation, the ability to reject instant gratification and understanding that your behaviours in the short term will affect your ability to achieve your goals in the long term.
Self-awareness and self-management inherently interconnect to allow individuals to succeed in both academic and emotional objectives.
3. Social Awareness
Social awareness is becoming increasingly important in interconnected multicultural communities throughout the world. This is especially the case within schools and workplaces as understanding and empathy are integral in order to establish positive relationships with your peers.
Social awareness is encouraged through resources and support that can help individuals to learn more about the social norms and practices of other societies and communities.
4. Relationship Skills
The development of relationship skills is one of the most important things for people to establish as early on as possible. The school environment is therefore the perfect place to teach these skills.
Understanding social norms and cues will help children in school and in life to empathize with others around them, allowing them to create meaningful relationships. This ability to maintain healthy relationships will subsequently positively affect the mental and emotional health of individuals as it allows them to establish a support network.
5. Responsible Decision-Making
The final principle that contributes to social emotional learning is the ability to make responsible decisions. When individuals are fully equipped with the ability to understand themselves and those around them, responsible decision-making falls into place.
If they can understand their own and other people’s emotional capacity, they will have a greater understanding of how their actions affect others, subsequently allowing them to make informed and responsible decisions.
What are examples of social emotional learning?
Social emotional learning can come in many different forms. It is largely a case of carefully considering what is going to work for each person. Everyone learns differently so teachers have to implement different learning tools and resources to aid different children in gaining different SEL skills.
Here are some examples of how social emotional learning can manifest, especially in the classroom and school:
Journalling is a good example of how social emotional learning can help develop self-awareness and self-management skills. Organizing a regular journaling activity and asking kids different questions such as: What were your strengths and weaknesses this week? helps them reflect and understand more about themselves.
- Daily greetings
Implementing daily greetings into the everyday routine of children in schools helps encourage social awareness and relationship skills. You can teach children greetings from different cultures to help them understand that everyone has a different way of communicating which should be respected. Plus, it teaches kids that it’s polite to kindly greet someone when you see them. All in all, this will help them understand social cues and form relationships.
- Talk about emotions
Talking about emotions is an effective way for social emotional learning to be implemented in the classroom. This can be through directly asking students how they feel about the learning environment or their own academic progress, or through exploring the emotions of literary or visual characters.
The ability to manage emotions is important as it is the foundation of SEL and it creates a safe internal and external environment for kids to develop in.
Why is social emotional learning important in schools?
Social emotional learning is extremely important in schools as it’s the time in which young people develop the most and is the optimum time for good habits to be taught. From elementary school, to middle school, to high school, these are the times in which kids learn the skills that are going to set them up for life.
Implementing SEL as early as possible gives kids the best chance to develop a high level of competency in areas such as self-awareness, social awareness and decision-making. Moreover, research shows that including SEL in the curriculum creates a more harmonious learning environment for everyone involved.
Research conducted by the committee for children suggests that when social emotional learning is part of a child’s school life, 42% of students were less likely to say they were involved in acts of physical aggression. In addition, their findings suggest that there were 20% fewer incidents of bullying of disabled children (source). It’s evident that SEL helps create safer learning environments.
These safer learning environments also translate into higher academic performance. In fact, the same study conducted research to evaluate the correlation between SEL and academic performance and found that there was a 13% increase in academic performance.
Tips to integrate social emotional learning in your classroom
Integrating social emotional learning into your classroom is extremely beneficial as it creates a safe learning environment to allow students to develop the necessary SEL skills to thrive. Nevertheless, transitioning from traditional modes of teaching to incorporating SEL can be daunting.
Here are some tips to help ensure your transition is as smooth as possible:
- Adult role models
Arguably the most important step in integrating social emotional learning into the classroom is to ensure the teachers and other adult role models in the school have high levels of emotional competencies. Adults must have developed SEL skills and be able to demonstrate a strong command over these skills in order for kids to behave in a similar way.
- Celebrate diversity
In order for your students to understand and embrace different cultures and societies, they need to be given the opportunity to do so. Ensuring your staff and workforce represents the outside world is a strong first step in celebrating diversity.
You could also include specific activities, days or events that celebrate the kinds of cultures that the kids in your school would otherwise never be exposed to. This gives them the opportunity to experience the lives and experiences of others, subsequently helping to promote empathy, tolerance and acceptance from an early age.
- Establish a community spirit
Creating a community spirit within a school will help individuals feel part of something. This is important as it ensures students feel comfortable in exploring themselves through the specific SEL practices you are integrating.
Organizing things such as daily meetings or ongoing consultations with staff members will encourage students to work with others and build relationships. Moreover, allowing them the autonomy to have their voices heard and actively participating in problem solving activities that affect the school as a whole will help them understand how their own self-awareness fits into the wider functioning of society.
Benefits of SEL for students
Here are the top three benefits of integrating SEL into your school:
Decline in student-related problems
One of the main benefits to implementing SEL in schools and for students is the fact that it leads to a decrease in student-related issues. Some of the main areas of improvement include a decline in substance abuse, behavioral problems and drop out rates.
Overall, as a more harmonious learning environment is created, students are encouraged to understand themselves more and empathize with what others are going through. The empathy that is fostered leads to a decrease in issues such as bullying and other related problems.
Improves student attitudes
Social emotional learning enhances the emotional stability of students, ensuring their mental health is cared for. This attention to emotions subsequently improves overall student attitudes.
Increases academic performance
In addition to improving the mental health and attitudes of students, SEL also promotes increased academic performance. As previously mentioned, a positive learning environment is created which provides students with a safe space to expand their learning.
Moreover, the self-awareness and self-motivation tactics that are employed under SEL encourage students to track their progress and identify their strengths and weaknesses. This therefore allows them to target their learning and improve their grades.
Social emotional learning is one of the most integral strategies that can be put
in place in order to help individuals grow into more understanding,
empathetic and caring people. Although implementing it as early on in a
child's life gives them the best chance to develop these skills, you continue to
develop the skills learned through SEL well into adulthood and throughout your
It is undeniable that the presence of SEL in schools allows students to feel safer and more understood as an inclusive learning environment is created. Teachers and faculty should therefore seriously consider including social emotional learning into their curriculum as not only will it benefit the emotional competence of students but will additionally allow them to thrive academically.