Social Emotional Learning involves skills that help children and adults navigate through our lives with all of its challenges in ways that support healthy habits, relationships and well-being. CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) describes Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as 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.”
The five core competencies for Social Emotional Learning are described on the CASEL website as follows:
- Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
- Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
- Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
- Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
- Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.
The following helpful information was researched and written by a student as a service learning project for us. We so appreciate his interest and contribution to our work. The author, Blake Johnson, is a student of history at the University of St. Thomas and comes from a small town in MN. He is dedicated to the fight against bullying through an academic lens and hopes to see his work provide help to others within his lifetime.
Social and Emotional Learning: A 5 pronged approach to improving our schools
We have a dream for a better world and for the betterment of our children. This betterment can be achieved through SEL. SEL’s success is dependent upon the adults who teach and model it. Adults can teach SEL to themselves. Learning SEL can be accomplished in both the home and the classroom. The adults who teach and model SEL will receive a reward in seeing the student’s standard test scores rise. Once SEL is practiced at home and in the classroom our goals of happy and more resilient kids will achieve more academically. These goals are why we need to adopt SEL.
What SEL is and what it is made up of
SEL as defined by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) is: “Social and emotional learning (SEL) 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.” According to CASEL, SEL is comprised of 5 parts. These parts are “Self-awareness,” “Self-management,” “Social-awareness,” “relationship skills,” and “responsible decision making.” CASEL refers to these as “interrelated sets of cognitive, affective and behavioral competencies.” All are considered necessary for achieving SEL.
The First Prong: The accessible and important practice of SEL for adults
You may think “How am I supposed to learn this strange new thing?” or “Why should I take up this new burden?” But social and emotional learning is something that is a part of our lives already. It is under our noses—we experience it multiple times a day without even knowing it. In this sense it is not strange, nor new, nor a burden. According to Elena Aguilar, all we need do is acknowledge our emotions and pay attention to how they influence ourselves and others. Aguilar discusses how you feel when you see someone and what interaction comes from that feeling, then we should check to see how the person who gives us these feelings reacts to our interaction with them. For example, let’s say I didn’t sleep well because of a family emergency and I am at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Naturally, I am going to be upset and let’s say I forgot a document and freaked out at the clerk when asked to provide it. The clerk would respond in kind because they would be defensive. With such a simple approach to SEL, there is no reason to not to adopt the practice into our daily lives.
The Second Prong: SEL Increases Academic Success
I can’t name a single parent or teacher who does not want their children to experience academic success. SEL is an essential part of ensuring that. By now most parents and educators are familiar with the testing within the common core system. Despite one’s opinion on common core, Dr. Vicki Zakrzewski tells us that SEL techniques also help with testing process because they relieve testing anxiety and overall approach to the material. Studies show that the academic careers of children practicing SEL not only increase but can increase into the double digit percentile. Essentially, whether or not our children’s success depends on their ability to take a test, and these tests are improved with SEL competence, we must be teaching SEL in our schools. Furthermore, SEL research shows that there is a decrease in bullying when SEL is adopted. This research shows that SEL creates a habitat that benefits benevolence and makes bullying less sustainable. Overall, with bullying decreasing, academic success will rise beyond the ability to address the stress of a test. For resilient and successful students, SEL is something that must be adopted.
The Third Prong: Parental Involvement in Schools
Building social and emotional learning at home is similar to building it in yourself. It is a very important measure for all parents to partake in. It is important because it validates the social and emotional lessons learned at school. Jennifer Miller argues that connection with your child and real parental love build SEL at home. A parent can also network with the school to aid them. For Miller, this can take to form of discussing with the teacher what they would like to see accomplished in the classroom and/or working with the school at a larger level that the school may offer such as the school board or PTA. Another way to look at this is that if you are being a positive and involved parent, you are already practicing SEL in your own home and therefore your child will be not only academically successful, but successful as a whole.
The Fourth Prong: Social and emotional learning combats stress
Every teacher has a story about that one student, the student who sucks up all of their energy, the student who just plain stresses them out. Social and emotional learning will provide a helpful mentality for handling these students. According to Dr. Zakrzewski’s own personal experience, this stress is the result of not having a background in SEL and once you gain that knowledge you will not be as likely to stress out or take that stress out on the students which is a benefit for everyone. In other words, because we have not gone through the process of identifying our emotions and managing them we scold a student for misbehaving and thus won’t have a safe learning environment. Zakrzewski gives the example, “instead of quickly resorting to punishments, teachers with SEC [“social-emotional competencies”] recognize their students’ emotions and have insight into what’s causing them, which then helps teachers respond with compassionate understanding when a student is acting out”. Most educators are concerned with the learning environment of their classrooms. Do not forget that it is the educator that builds that space, and as a result if the educator practices SEL they then can provide a wonderful space for youths to learn.
The Fifth Prong: SEL begins with adults
We all want a better world. We want our kids to grow up in a safe place and be successful. One effective way to ensure future success is through social and emotional learning. Many schools address adult SEL, but not all. Furthermore, intensive studies show that SEL is effective “only if the individuals within the [school] system are willing to transform their own beliefs and practices, from the ground up,” meaning that if adults are not willing to change how they think about education or their styles of teaching, we will never achieve success with SEL. A successful example of SEL being adopted by a school and being embraced by the adults involved with the district is the Oakland Unified School District. What makes this school district important according to Zakrzewski is “Ultimately, the district is addressing the human dimension of education—the part that goes beyond test scores and that, in the end, is more lasting and more useful for everyone involved, students and adults alike.” At the time of Zakrzewski’s article on this district there had not been a lot of time elapsed to see results but there is a great deal of forward looking and positive feelings for a better future—a future to be embraced by all for a better school system and a better world.
Aguilar, Elena. “5 Simple Lessons for Social and Emotional Learning for Adults.” Edutopia. 20 May 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
Miller, Jennifer. “The Power of Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning.” Getting Smart The Power of Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning Comments. 06 Apr. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
“SEL Defined.” CASEL. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016.
“SEL Competencies.” CASEL. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016.
“SEL and Bullying Prevention.” CASEL. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016
Vega, Vanessa. “Social and Emotional Learning Research Review.” Edutopia. N.p., 2012. Web. 12 May 2016.
Zakrzewski, Vicki. “Why Teachers Need Social-Emotional Skills.” Greater Good. 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
Zakrzewski, Vicki. “A New Model of School Reform.” Greater Good. 21 May 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
Zakrzewski, Vicki. “How to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning into Common Core.” Greater Good. 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
Zakrzewski, Vicki. “Social-Emotional Learning: Why Now?” Greater Good. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016
 “SEL Defined.” CASEL. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016.
 “SEL Competencies.” CASEL. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016.
 Aguilar, Elena. “5 Simple Lessons for Social and Emotional Learning for Adults.” Edutopia. 20 May 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
 Zakrzewski, Vicki. “How to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning into Common Core.” Greater Good. 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
 Zakrzewski, Vicki. “Social-Emotional Learning: Why Now?” Greater Good. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016.; Vega, Vanessa. “Social and Emotional Learning Research Review.” Edutopia. N.p., 2012. Web. 12 May 2016.
 “SEL and Bullying Prevention.” CASEL. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2016.; Ibid.
 Miller, Jennifer. “The Power of Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning.” Getting Smart The Power of Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning Comments. 06 Apr. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
 Zakrzewski, Vicki. “Why Teachers Need Social-Emotional Skills.” Greater Good. 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
 Zakrzewski, Vicki. “A New Model of School Reform.” Greater Good. 21 May 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
Resources for Learning More About and Implementing SEL (the resources listed below and more can be found on our Pinterest board for SEL)
Social and Emotional Learning: A Short History from Edutopia
Social and Emotional Learning: What the Experts Say from Edutopia
How to Raise a Socially Intelligent Child from Aha Parenting
The Power of Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning from Getting Smart
Tips and Resources for fostering social and emotional skills from the Parent Toolkit
Short video clips to support social and emotional growth from the Parent Toolkit
Why Teachers Need Social – Emotional Skills from Greater Good
The Science of Social-Emotional Learning in Action from Greater Good
Five Keys to Successful Social and Emotional Learning from Edutopia
A New Model of School Reform – How Oakland Unified is transforming its schools by embedding social-emotional learning into the district culture—one adult at a time from the Greater Good
SEL After-School Resources from WINGS and Edutopia
Great Kids Emotional Smarts – Toolkits, videos and resources for parents and educators from Start Empathy
Social-Emotional Learning: Why now? from Greater Good
Social and Emotional Research and Review from Edutopia
The Connection Between Academic and Social – Emotional Learning by Maurice J. Elias
The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions in Child Development, January/February 2011