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September 6, 2019

Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning: What’s the Difference?

If you are an educator, you might have already heard of mindfulness, social emotional learning (SEL), or both! They are taught in all types of schools, from elementary school to high school. Both SEL and mindfulness have become more popular in education as they improve students’ learning experiences and progress. They both produce similar outcomes when taught at schools: “increased academic achievement and well-being, less risky behavior, and better relationships with peers and teachers.” 

While it’s easy to confuse SEL with mindfulness and vice versa it’s helpful to distinguish the differences between these two trendy education buzzwords. Learning what makes them different will give you a better understanding of what SEL and mindfulness can do and why they are important. 

Comparing mindfulness with SEL

Mindfulness teaches students how to recognize and accept their present thoughts and emotions. It can also help them cope with negative stressors in their life and become more self aware of their feelings.

SEL teaches students essential life skills based on five core competencies. These include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. With SEL, students can learn how to verbally express their feelings, resolve conflict with a peer, and much more. 

In short, SEL is a process that is more complex than mindfulness — it requires more skills and has more specific goals compared to mindfulness, like problem solving or relationship building. Mindfulness, meanwhile, has a much simpler goal that helps with SEL: non-judgemental attentiveness to thoughts, feelings and experiences in the present moment. 

Mindfulness has a focus on self-awareness, one of SEL’s five core competencies. Using mindfulness as a complementary tool to SEL can help get students closer towards learning those important social and emotional skills. 

Both SEL and mindfulness each have their limitations. Being mindful doesn’t ensure a student can successfully build relationships with their teachers. Having social and emotional skills can’t guarantee a student can mentally ground themselves if they face a challenging situation. Fortunately, they can be taught together to ensure students benefit from a well rounded education. 

How mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning work together in the classroom

Together, SEL and mindfulness can help students navigate the classroom and their relationships with teachers and peers. It can make a difference for students who wish to successfully navigate a group project or deal with interpersonal conflict in the classroom. Or it can help students maintain lasting relationships with teachers and other students to promote a collaborative learning culture within the classroom.

As students learn mindfulness, they become more in tune with themselves. They have a greater understanding of their feelings and experiences, which can promote empathy. Strengthening empathy can help solidify the key prosocial attitudes and behavior that is central to SEL and helpful for thriving in a classroom environment.

When a student learns SEL with mindfulness, it fortifies their education because each strengthens a student’s social and emotional well-being. When a student's well-being is nurtured, they gain essential skills that enable them to ask for help and work with others successfully. Mindfulness and SEL enables students to feel comfortable, to feel in control of their social environment, and to have a more enjoyable and positive learning experience. 


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Pear Assessment Team

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