What is Social Emotional Learning?

Social Emotional Learning, SEL

If you’ve been in education for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard the words “Social Emotional Learning” before. It’s not a new concept, Social Emotional Learning (or SEL for short), has been around for years, but has just recently started to gain respect, attention, and importance in the world of education.

SEL, as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional, Learning is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

That’s a mouthful, but it contains a lot of really useful information. In a nutshell, SEL is all about understanding how people grow and learn socially and emotionally by looking at the daily interactions and experiences that influence their emotions, behavior, and thereby affect their choices.

SEL provides educators and families with a common language and framework to create a welcoming climate and culture for learning from each other. SEL can be used to intentionally engage educators in facilitating classroom instruction, systems, and behavior management strategies. Parents can also use SEL to develop common languages and behavior strategies!  While some behavior models might focus on corrective action solely, SEL focuses on building engagement, highlighting trust, and establishing collaboration between all members of the education community.

How does SEL do this?

SEL gets broken down into 5 core competencies which help promote interpersonal, and cognitive growth and development within students.

Self Awareness: Being able to accurately recognize your own emotions, thoughts, and values, and understand how those might influence your behavior.

Self-Management: Regulation of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors depending on the situation. SEL stresses the importance of understanding the appropriate times to experience emotions, while also stressing the importance of finding ways to deal with stress, impulses, and motivation.

Social Awareness: Being able to understand and empathize with all sorts of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures is critical. Through SEL, students learn to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, while learning to appreciate diversity and build respect for others.

Relationship Skills: Learning how to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding individual and group relationships. SEL teaches clear communication, powerful listening skills, and cooperation with others, resulting in longer lasting, more productive, valuable, and healthy relationships.

Responsible Decision Making: Making constructive choices about our personal behavior and social interactions. SEL focuses on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms, teaching students to understand the consequences of their actions and to identify, analyze, and evaluate their problems to make better decisions.

How is SEL implemented?

To improve the overall climate of your schools, these 5 core competencies can be taught in a variety of ways: from free-standing lessons specifically created to boost your students’ social or emotional needs, to organized strategies promoting SEL on a school-wide level.

SEL is implemented across all three tiers of behavior support: campus-wide support, small groups of students, and individual student needs.

Some examples of this include:

  1. Lessons designed to build students’ social and emotional competence explicitly
  2. Weaving Social Emotional Learning teaching practices like cooperative learning and project-based learning into classes.
  3. Integrating Social Emotional Learning into an academic curriculum like Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, or Health.
  4. Creating organized strategies that promote Social Emotional Learning on a campus level.

As Social Emotional Learning is adopted in schools, both short-term and long-term progress is made: boosting both academic and behavioral outcomes, and creating schools which are positive healthy, engaging, and culturally respectful.

Monica L. Kurtz is an Education Specialist at Region 13. Monica has a B.S. in Applied Social Sciences. Her background includes over 10 years’ experience in early childhood education, as well as 15 years with the Texas School for the Deaf working with students from Kindergarten to adult learners who are deaf and also have additional disabilities.

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