If you're an elementary or primary school teacher who is yet to introduce social-emotional learning (SEL) in your classroom, don't stop reading!
SEL is recognized as an essential component of a well-rounded school curriculum. It's a highly effective way of addressing emotional and mental health issues as well as bullying and antisocial behavior because it builds emotional intelligence (EQ).
Emotional intelligence is something everyone needs to flourish and succeed.
If you're feeling frazzled after the disruptions of COVID-19 and your students are showing signs of stress and anxiety, building emotional intelligence using SEL could be a savior for your classroom community AND your sanity.
What is Social-Emotional Learning
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is vital for success and happiness!
SEL helps people develop interpersonal skills, emotional awareness, and a sense of self. It provides a set of skills that enables them to cope with everyday challenges, develop healthy relationships both personally and professionally, achieve goals, and make sensible decisions.
In other words, SEL develops emotional intelligence which in a school setting, improves behavior, connectedness, and learning outcomes.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.
What is Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence enables people to identify feelings and manage emotions. It is developed in students when SEL is incorporated into the curriculum.
Emotional intelligence is also known as EQ or EI. Having a good quota of EQ means people are aware that emotions can influence behavior and that words and actions can impact others in positive and negative ways. It equips people with the skills to identify and manage their emotions and to understand and empathize with what others might be going through.
Emotional intelligence or EI is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they're feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.
EQ is something everyone needs to be able to establish and maintain healthy relationships which are vitally important for good mental health and wellbeing.
Friendships provide children with feelings of belonging and support that build confidence and self-esteem. They teach them how to behave and how to sort out problems or conflicts. Good friends need to be able to set aside their own needs to consider those of another. Kids learn that to keep their friends they must prove they're invested in their relationships by showing kindness, respect, and empathy. Friends also help kids learn about themselves which is part of building their identity, but they can also teach them to be resilient if things don't go to plan.
Relationships let children express themselves – a cry, a laugh, a question – and get something back – a cuddle, a smile, an answer. What children ‘get back’ gives them very important information about what the world is like and how to act in the world – how to think, understand, communicate, behave, show emotions and develop social skills.
The Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning
The takeaway is that SEL will not just improve the wellbeing of students, but it will reduce stress and increase the happiness of teachers!
You might feel like that's a bold statement but there's a great deal of proof to support it. Let's go through the main benefits of SEL.
1. Better Relationships
Children who participate in SEL programs have a better grasp on what it means to be a kind and caring friend, son or daughter, student, or peer. Being switched on to their feelings gives them a better understanding of how someone else might be feeling. They are able to consider the needs of others and demonstrate empathy and compassion to support people who are feeling sad or vulnerable. They are more likely to initiate contact, are more equipped to resist peer pressure and are accepting of those from other cultures. Emotionally intelligent kids are also able to share their thoughts and feelings, participate positively as part of a team and resolve conflicts.
2. Happier Children
Kids with strong EQ understand that showing kindness makes them more likeable. They know that the things they do and say have an impact on how people feel about them and the way they are treated in return.
At a scientific level, it's proven that kindness acts like a natural anti-depressant because the feel-good emotions experienced when we are kind release serotonin in the brain. Serotonin plays an important part in learning, memory, mood, sleep, health, and digestion. It provides people with a heightened sense of wellbeing, increases energy, and gives wonderful feelings of positivity and self-worth which all lead to feeling happier and more satisfied.
3. Growth Mindset
Mindset develops at an early age and has a profound impact on behavior, relationships, resilience, and happiness, just to name a few.
A fixed mindset is the notion that character, intellect, and creative abilities are unable to be changed. Dr Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford says that people with a fixed mindset believe “they have a certain amount [of intelligence] and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb”.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
A growth mindset allows people to see themselves as growing, flourishing individuals capable of achieving more than they already have. When a student possesses a growth mindset, they thrive on challenges because they're not afraid to fail. When something doesn't go to plan, it's not seen as a failure but an opportunity to learn.
4. Increased Confidence and Self-Esteem
It's shown that people with high emotional intelligence understand the importance of kindness. Being kind benefits givers by not only improving wellbeing but also popularity. A study with 9 to 11-year olds succeeded in increasing both happiness and peer acceptance through a simple pro-social activity. Peer acceptance is extremely important among youth and being well liked increases feelings of confidence, self-esteem, and inclusion. The study also concluded that students who are happy and well thought of by classmates exhibit more inclusive behavior and less externalizing behavior such as bullying.
Generous behavior reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk, and several studies have shown that teenagers who volunteer are less likely to fail a subject in school, get pregnant, or abuse substances. Teens who volunteer also tend to be more socially competent and have higher self-esteem.
5. Less Narcissism
Studies prove that today's generation of teens are more narcissistic than in previous times. A lack of empathy is largely to blame but experts say that self-absorbed behavior can be curved through kindness activities that teach children to care and see through someone else's eyes. In other words, children who learn to be givers in a world where they're conditioned to take appear to be less likely to catch the "it's all about me" virus.
According to a 2010 University of Michigan study, teens are 40 percent less empathetic than they were three decades ago, and in the same period, narcissism has increased 58 percent. And that’s bad news for our children.
We might be producing a smart, self-assured generation of young people, but today’s kids are also the most self-centered and stressed on record.
6. Less Antisocial Behavior and Bullying
Character traits such as kindness, empathy and respect are learned through SEL programs and are essential ingredients for bullying prevention. When SEL is applied to a whole school setting, positive personality traits become a natural and instinctive part of the culture for both children and staff. Happy children who are confident and feel like they're part of a supportive community show that they care about and respect others.
SEL has been shown to be an effective component in comprehensive bullying prevention interventions and other interventions targeting problems such as substance abuse. SEL programs have also been shown to improve student skills, reduce problem behaviors, and increase academic achievement.
A study in Vancouver involving 19 classrooms had students aged 9- to 11-year perform three acts of kindness (versus visit three places) per week over a 4-week period. It was noted that the wellbeing of all students improved but those involved in acts of kindness experienced significantly larger increases in peer acceptance to students who visited places.
Schools using a social and emotional learning (SEL) framework can foster an overall climate of inclusion, warmth, and respect, and promote the development of core social and emotional skills among both students and staff. Because bullying prevention is entirely congruent with SEL, it can be embedded in a school’s SEL framework.
7. Less Stress, Anxiety and Depression
SEL frameworks improve the culture in the classroom by fostering caring, empathetic, and valued students who feel connected to a supportive community. It fosters social skills that improve relationships which are critical for happiness and good mental health. Students with heightened EQ are more likely to express themselves and talk about their problems which is also an important factor for reducing stress and anxiety.
SEL develops character traits such as kindness which produces feel-good emotions that make children happy. Happiness can be a natural antidote to stress, anxiety and even depression. Science explains this as parasympathetic activity which allows the body to relax and regenerate.
Since depression, anxiety and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking. Having a positive effect on someone else can increase our self-esteem and give our life a greater sense of purpose.
8. Improved Teacher Wellbeing
Happy, co-operative children, means peaceful and productive classrooms - essential for reducing stress to improve teacher wellbeing. Students who feel good about their environment are more likely to show respect, want to please and connect with their teacher.
That's one side of it. The other is that teaching social-emotional and relationship skills makes teachers reflect on their own emotional competence both in and out of the classroom. Teachers who develop their own EQ enjoy improved mental health and become more effective teachers.
Elementary educator Patricia Morris found that she had changed significantly as a result of using SEL in her classroom. “I’m calmer, more patient, kinder, and far less controlling,” described Patricia. “I’m more focused and able to let little things go that before would’ve made me crazy. I’m also more willing to look for the reasons behind things that happen. And I’ve become more optimistic, so when anything terrible happens, I try to see what good might come out of it.”
9. Better Results & Greater Attendance
When children are happy and feel good about themselves and their learning environment they have fewer worries to distract them and few reasons not to attend school. Children who are able to concentrate on their learning are generally able to achieve better results. Feeling a sense of achievement and value makes children look forward to coming to school.
A 2011 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Child Development showed an 11 percentile gain in academic achievement for students who participated in well-implemented SEL programs versus students who did not. Improved brain imaging has given neuroscientists important keys to unlocking the connections between academics and emotions. Study after study support the addition of effective SEL programs to the curriculum.
10. Positive School Culture
A sense of belonging and inclusion is a fundamental need for any human being. We have shown that SEL creates an opportunity for students and teachers (and parents) to develop strong relationships that lead to a positive and relaxed school environment, an essential ingredient for effective learning. Happy students and staff create a positive vibe that lifts the energy of the school to make it a warm and welcoming place to be.
A survey of teachers commissioned by CASEL found 93% of teachers want a greater focus on SEL in schools. They agree that social and emotional skills are teachable and are calling for schools to prioritize the integration of SEL learning practices and strategies.
A survey of 762 educators from 15 countries by The Economist Intelligence Unit found 80% of educators believe positive emotions are critical for academic success, emotional well-being is crucial for developing foundational literacies and communication skills.
11. On-going Lifelong Benefits
When critical social and emotional skills are learned at an early age, they become a part of a child's character which affords them a greater level of achievement and success. Achieving makes people feel happy and content giving them a drive to strive for greater things for themselves throughout their whole life.
There are statistically significant associations between SEL skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later. SEL decreased the likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list for public housing, receiving public assistance, having any involvement with police before adulthood, and ever spending time in a detention facility.
Integrating social-emotional learning is a way to help your students succeed in the classroom, enjoy their relationships, feel confident to try new things, and prepare them for the challenges they will face throughout their lives. But the other incredibly important thing to remember is that SEL will make you a better teacher and human being out of school.
Introducing SEL isn't overwhelming. There are many standalone lesson plans that will get you started or you can opt for a year-long curriculum that has it all laid out for you. Whatever you choose to do, I hope we've inspired you to take the leap and if you already have, we'd love to hear about your experience using social-emotional learning in your classroom!