What is it?
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) focuses on developing the individual qualities, strengths, and assets of a child related to social, emotional, cognitive, and moral development and positive mental health. It is the process of helping a young person to:
- Acquire and apply knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to recognize and manage emotions,
- Develop caring and concern for others,
- Make responsible decisions,
- Establish positive relationships, and
- Handle challenging situations capably.
School-based educational initiatives that focus on youth development, health promotion and problem prevention can be organized through SEL instruction. Students learn, apply and practice SEL skills similar to the way that they learn other academic skills through instruction in the classroom. These skills are then reinforced in the classroom by the teacher and other students as situations arise where they need to be applied, throughout the school day, at home and in the community.
What are the features of a successful SEL system?
Instruction in SEL is taught in the classroom and reinforced throughout the school andcan be used as a proactive and preventative way to impart skills that will help avoid behaviors that harm the community.Through various pre-packaged curriculums, SEL can be taught and reinforced in concert with other frameworks such as School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) or Restorative Justice (RJ) and can easily be coordinated with a broad array of prevention and promotion efforts.
Through SEL programs, students learn five key competencies:
- Self-awareness—Identification and recognition of their own emotions, recognition of strengths in themselves and others, sense of self-efficacy, and self-confidence.
- Social awareness—Empathy, respect for others, and perspective taking.
- Responsible decision-making—Evaluation and reflection, and personal and ethical responsibility.
- Self-management—Impulse control, stress management, persistence, goal setting, and motivation.
- Relationship skills—Cooperation, help seeking and providing, and communication.
What does SEL look like in school?
SEL instruction can be implemented either through a pre-set curriculum taught in every classroom and/or in coordination with other prevention and promotion efforts, such as SWPBIS or RJ. For example, SWPBIS requires explicit instruction around behavior expectations, and SEL programming can be used to fulfill instruction. Additionally, in RJ circles, students can discuss topics that require SEL competencies, such as “What does it mean to be a good friend?” Teachers teach key competencies similarly to and in addition to academic subjects. Effective SEL programming is a coordinated effort: teachers directly teach SEL skills inside classrooms, and parents, administration and other non-instructional staff reinforces SEL skills outside of the classroom.
- Students are taught positive interpersonal skills and intrapersonal emotional intelligence using various combinations of media, including videos, pictures and text.
- Lesson plans help students recognize and understand a variety of emotions and their causes.
- Administrators and parents further strengthen the key competencies by questioning students and reinforcing expected behavior. For example, a principal may walk through the school and ask students what “focusing attention” is and bulletin boards in common areas may exhibit pictures modeling “focused attention” and tips about how to “focus attention.”
- Students are encouraged to keep a journal chronicling events in their lives as well as their emotions surrounding those events.
- Some SEL programs incorporate technology, public television programming and games to impart SEL standards.
- Students are empowered to resolve their own conflicts through the use of peer mediation.
Why is SEL a proven better approach than quick removals?
- An in-depth study found that students who receive SEL instruction had more positive attitudes about school and improved an average of 11 percentile points on standardized achievement tests compared to students who did not receive such instruction.
- Since implementing SEL, a school in Chicago has seen great improvement in student achievement. Before SEL programming, during the 2004-2005 school year, 38% of the students met or exceeded state standards. By 2007-2008, 75% of the students met or exceeded state standards.
- Other examples of demonstrated benefits include improved graduation rates, reduced violence, lowered substance abuse, and decreased teen suicide attempts.
Where can I go for additional information, resources and research?
Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – an organization providing funding, information, training and research around Social and Emotional Learning – www.casel.org
CASEL SEL Stories, SEL Impacts on Students (Brooklyn), available at www.casel.org.
Durlak, J.A. (2011), The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions, Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.
CASEL SEL Stories, Principal Leadership: A Key to Success (Chicago), available at www.casel.org.
Zins, J.E. & Elias, M. (2008), Social Emotional Learning, Children’s Needs III.