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September 4, 2019

Social Emotional Learning: Helping Your Students Succeed

What is social and emotional learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning defines SEL as the “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” By learning SEL, students pick up valuable interpersonal skills they will use throughout their entire lives. 

SEL can be taught with different approaches in a variety of settings. A teacher could incorporate SEL into their own curriculum in their classroom. Or educators and administrators could work to incorporate a school or district program. But SEL is not limited to school only. Students can learn SEL at home from parents or others in their community.

What are the core competencies of social and emotional learning?

SEL is made up of five core competencies. These essential skills are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Developing these skills strengthen students’ capability to navigate daily challenges and interactions.

  • Self-awareness is the ability to recognize one’s emotions, values, strengths, and limitations. Students can gain a sense of grounded confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
  • Self-management is the ability to regulate their behavior, emotions, and thoughts. Students learn to control their impulses, motivate themselves, and manage stress. In the end, this skill helps students set and achieve their goals, both academic and personal.
  • Social awareness is the ability to understand others’ perspectives. These perspectives include those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Strengthening social awareness means students learn to understand social and ethical norms. This helps develop empathy and promote respect for others.
  • Relationship skills is the ability to establish and maintain relationships with others. These skills strengthen students' ability to listen and communicate with others. This is key to their success in school and in their future careers. They learn to navigate through conflicts in a constructive manner. Also, students learn to resist negative influences from social pressure.
  • Responsible decision making is the ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions. Students learn to consider safety concerns, ethical standards, and social norms. They learn to think about their actions' consequences and others' health and wellbeing.

Why is social and emotional learning important?

With so much to teach in a school year, teachers might ask what is the point of teaching SEL. Why is it worth devoting precious time to developing these skills? What would be the return on investment?

One incentive for teaching SEL is that it improves exam scores and grades. A meta-analysis of 300,000 K-12 students in SEL programs showed that “compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.” This shows what a big difference SEL can make for students. If classes are preparing for state standardized assessments, a significant boost in test scores can be an appealing incentive for teachers to adopt SEL. 

But the long term effects of SEL go beyond testing season, affecting students for up to 18 years. It positively impacts their academic achievement, ability to conduct themselves, and emotional management. Students who learn SEL also demonstrate a more positive attitude about themselves. They are equipped to build more positive relationships with both their peers and adults. With SEL, students experience improved emotional well-being and social behavior.

In the end, social and emotional learning is important because it establishes a foundation of essential life skills. Students will need these social emotional skills long after they finish school, so it is best to prepare them as early as possible. 

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