What is social-emotional learning and why is it important?
Social-emotional learning fosters holistic development for students; the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) describes SEL as consisting of five components:
- Self-Awareness - understanding one’s own thoughts and feelings
- Self-Management - managing response to external stimuli
- Social Awareness - understanding the thoughts and feelings of others
- Relationship Skills - improving interpersonal interactions
- Responsible Decision Making - understanding the impact of one’s actions
SEL has been shown to make a significant impact on student livelihood and ability to succeed. A 2019 report by the Aspen Institute called SEL “the substance of education itself.” It showed correlations between the promotion of social-emotional learning across a school community and overall student success in many key performance indicators, including “attendance, grades, test scores, graduation rates, success in college and careers, more engaged citizenship, and better overall well-being.”
This is a call-to-action for every school community to increase the focus on social-emotional learning to create an environment that supports academic, post-secondary, and personal success for all students.
In-Classroom SEL Activities
The promotion of SEL can begin inside the classroom with non-academic activities that reinforce each of the method’s five components.
At the beginning of the year, teachers can collaborate with the students to establish classroom norms for what is expected from the class and what students expect of one another. This includes setting boundaries for what is deemed acceptable and respectable, such as being quiet when your peers are sharing and keeping an open mind to other perspectives.
Teachers can also institute either daily or weekly check-ins on the emotional well-being of their students. This can be an open-ended verbal discussion of how everyone is feeling or a quick check-in where students hold up a sign showing their emotion for the day. This establishes an environment of care where students know they are valued as unique individuals and that there is more that matters than academics.
Throughout the year, in-classroom learning time can be divided between individual and group work, if the subject matter allows. This split supports a closer relationship with one’s own emotions as well as how they are able to understand and interact with their peers. These opportunities for group learning create stronger, healthier connections between students and reinforce the collaborative classroom environment.
SEL Activities in the School Counseling Department
The school counseling department serves a vital role in promoting social-emotional learning for the school community. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA)’s position on SEL is that counselors are advocates for their students, helping them to develop strong social-emotional skills in order to navigate the complexities of life.
School counselors are active participants in delivering SEL-focused activities that promote this growth, including opportunities such as:
- Social skills group counseling sessions
- Goal setting seminars
- Conflict resolution workshops
- Mindfulness-based workshops and group counseling sessions
- Career strengths explorer
- Extracurricular fairs to encourage expression and social involvement
- Peer mentor groups (ex. upperclassmen paired with freshmen in a high school setting)
Schoolwide SEL Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniable impact on all students. It has upended academic, athletic, and extracurricular programming and caused immense emotional strife for students and their families.
Supporting student social-emotional needs during this time involves everyone in the school community—administrators, teachers, counselors, coaches, and staff. It requires opening up communication lines within the school in order to set expectations, answer questions, and train employees to understand SEL and how they can support students better within the context of the pandemic.
This includes developing the understanding that not all students have experienced the pandemic the same or need the same support. There is a sliding scale of how students and their families have been impacted, and this should be recognized and embedded in flexible SEL programming that helps to reintegrate and re-engage all students.
Beyond this, the school community needs to keep communication open with students and their families, so that outreach can happen in both directions. Students and families will know they are supported by the school and can seek assistance with trust and security, and the school can adjust programming accordingly to best meet those needs.
Support Your Students through an Increased SEL Focus in Your School
Social-emotional learning has the power to transform the future of the students in your school by supporting healthy development that in turn leads to long-term academic and personal success.
Explore the University of Redlands School of Education’s graduate academic programs to see how you can pursue a career where you can make an impact by promoting SEL schoolwide.