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Social-emotional learning (SEL) is, at its core, about connection and empathy, and maintaining positive and constructive relationships. There are many aspects of life in which this matters greatly, and school is one of them.
But in a time when schools must place as much value on academic outcomes as they do the development of the whole learner, where does SEL fit in?
The fact about social-emotional learning is that it is shown to have a positive effect on student performance. Areas of improvement include academics, teamwork, empathy, social interaction, attention levels, stress, and behavioural problems.
The question is, how does social-emotional learning manage to do this?
Let’s dive in a little deeper and see why SEL is such a powerful approach to student performance and well-being. We’ll learn why more and more schools are implementing its practices, and how your own learners can enjoy its merits too.
How Social-Emotional Learning Benefits Our Students
So what is social-emotional learning and what does it involve? The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines 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.”
They focus on 5 main aspects of social-emotional learning:
- Social awareness
- Relationship skills
- Responsible decision-making
At Future-Focused Learning, although we look at social-emotional learning in a similar way, it’s geared more toward the awareness of others as much as the self.
We see SEL as a practice of being connected to the hearts of those around us, and wishing for their joy and infinite holistic development as much as our own.
This is central to the vitality of SEL, and it’s what makes it necessary in our schools and workforces, both of which are highly collaborative and culturally diverse.
Now that we have this understanding, let’s explore how social-emotional learning benefits our learners’ performance in school.
The fact about social-emotional learning is that it is shown to have a positive effect on student performance.
Having self-awareness can be a precursor to learning effectiveness in a number of ways. For example, its inward evaluative nature can help students constructively interpret formative feedback and then use it to their highest advantage. In this way, they gradually shift towards taking ownership of their learning.
Another way this aspect of SEL can lead to academic success is through fostering a student’s desire to pursue lifelong learning. When we are self-aware we strive to understand how we can improve and better ourselves.
Additionally, we tend to adopt a problem-solving attitude that encourages us to develop habits like seeking and using information in the moment.
We do this as a part of managing challenges in school and in life. They are skills that never leave us and are always useful. In this sense, self-awareness in social-emotional learning can also involve the development of critical, analytical, and creative thinking, all of which contribute to higher academic results.
In our school years we face workloads and challenges that regularly call on us to employ self-management tactics. Self-management as it applies to our learning can include things like productivity/organizational skills, personal networking, and flexible thinking to name a few.
Learning accountability also requires a high degree of self-management. Learners become responsible for planning, revising, executing, and evaluating projects both solo and with their peers. Evaluation and debriefing skills can also apply to self- and peer-assessments in learning.
There’s no question that assignments can get heavy for our learners as well, and self-management also plays a key role in handling this. An increased ability to manage workload stress reduces anxiety about grades and looming deadlines.
Clearer heads mean better focus and concentration, and thus better learning. Consequently, practicing stress management also can also help to improve the organizational skills we mentioned earlier.
Transforming Education defines social awareness this way:
“Social awareness is 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.”
When we exhibit social awareness we encourage the qualities of professionalism, proper communication, and personal responsibility both in ourselves and others. It’s about learning to manage our emotions while empathizing with those of our peers. When we seek to understand others, we develop a higher understanding of ourselves.
This crucial element of social-emotional learning contributes directly to maintaining proactive and enjoyable classroom environments. Interestingly enough, it’s also part of what defines the ideal global digital citizen.
There’s no question that assignments can get heavy for our learners as well, and self-management also plays a key role in handling this.
The kinds of connections learners make with both teachers and fellow classmates can greatly impact their performance in school. They’re not going to try as hard or do as well with people that they don’t like or don’t find interesting. On the other hand, if they feel a sense of alienation from those around them, their productivity in learning will also suffer.
From the get-go our students need to feel like the classrooms they come to are safe places to be. They should be environments where learners of all definitions are welcome, and are free to interact and grow in ways that enrich and support them in their personal journeys.
Meaningful relationship-building ensures students maintain quality interactions throughout their formative years. With a system of support from staff and students alike, everyone benefits and excels in the achievement of common learning goals.
The kind of responsible decision-making we’re talking about takes ethics, personal behaviours social norms, and deep critical thinking into consideration.
The secret to great decision-making is first having a full understanding of the problem or task, and then doing the appropriate background work. Such skills serve our students in many aspects of their learning, including tackling assignment challenges in a productive and results-oriented way.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jul 24, 2019, updated October 21, 2021