Understanding Social Emotional Learning

What is Social Emotional Learning?

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is educational programming that helps children learn self-regulation skills, self-management skills, strategies for identifying their own emotions, and tactics for building and maintaining healthy relationships with others.

Some teachers work on social and emotional skills through specific programs, while others incorporate social and emotional skill-building into their regular curricula. SEL programs help students feel positive about school, relationships, and themselves. The programs can also be helpful in building a positive and productive classroom environment, where collaboration and academic work run smoothly.

While SEL used to be the purview of guidance counselors and school psychologists, growing numbers of classroom teachers see the importance of SEL in their daily work with students of all ages.

Social & Emotional Skills

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning pinpoints five discrete sets of social and emotional skills or competencies. These are:

  • Self-awareness: Through SEL, students become aware of their own emotions. They develop stronger vocabularies for describing their feelings, and they learn to pinpoint what triggers anger and frustration for them. They learn to identify emotions through bodily responses, and they become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Self-management: SEL also helps students regulate, or manage, themselves more effectively. These techniques include calming down when they feel frustrated, negotiating conflicts and strong feelings appropriately, and managing their behaviors and interactions with others.
  • Social awareness: Via SEL instruction, students become more empathetic of other people and their perspectives. Students learn more about reading social cues and the overall importance of relating sensibly and thoughtfully to others.
  • Relationship skills: SEL helps students develop skills for building and maintaining friendships and collaborative working relationships.
  • Responsible decision-making: SEL helps students practice ethical and constructive decision-making to take responsibility for their academic and social worlds.

Guidelines for Implementing a Social Emotional Curriculum

If you intend to implement a social emotional curriculum, start by familiarizing yourself with social-emotional learning standards in your state or district.

There are many different social-emotional learning curricula available. Some of these are scripted curricula with specific lesson plans and activities. Other social-emotional learning programs are more like toolkits, with advice for teachers about integrating SEL thoughtfully into daily classroom practice.

The approach you choose to take with your students will depend on their age, their previous experiences, and your specific SEL goals. You can work with colleagues to develop specific SEL lesson plans designed to meet your own and your students' needs. Try to keep SEL fun and engaging for students so that they can integrate the skills they develop in an ongoing way.

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