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What is Social-Emotional Learning and Why is it Important?

The concept of social-emotional learning is increasingly examined, as teachers and schools grapple with their responsibility to teach students how to pass exams, complete coursework assignments, and become rounded human beings with the skills and attributes to succeed in life.

Continue reading to learn more about social-emotional learning, why it is essential, how it can be taught, and tools teachers can use to make their lessons more engaging. Or take a look at the myViewBoard visual learning platform

Social-emotional learning, or SEL for short, is an essential concept within education because it is a framework through which students acquire the skills necessary to navigate through school, working life, and beyond. In particular, the framework helps with self-preservation, self-control, relationship-building, and decision-making.

Most teachers and academic institutions are aware of their obligation to help students achieve good grades, leave school with the best possible qualifications, and assist them with personal development. Doing so allows them to exit education as well-rounded individuals with the tools to achieve success in the future.

In this article, we explore the entire concept of social-emotional learning in much more detail. Additionally, we also explain how the related idea of social-emotional feedback can assist teachers in delivering more engaging lessons that are more likely to generate lasting knowledge acquisition.

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

First, it is crucial to define what social-emotional learning is. An article written for The Committee for Children’s website states that social-emotional learning can be defined as “the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.”

It is a vital part of human development, equipping students with the skills, abilities, tools, and knowledge to build positive relationships, solve problems, make intelligent decisions, and achieve the necessary level of self-awareness. Social-emotional learning can also provide the foundation for educational success.

Moreover, social-emotional learning has a role to play within the context of pushes for inclusive learning and accessible education. As schools embrace people from different backgrounds, who face diverse challenges, students need to understand this and develop empathy and compassion.

5 Key Social-Emotional Learning Areas

Understanding the concept of social-emotional learning can be aided by breaking it down into some key areas. Thus, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has created the ‘CASEL 5’ framework, which outlines five core skills or areas associated with social-emotional learning.

The section below explores these five skill areas in greater detail:

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is sometimes described as the leading skill in social-emotional learning. CASEL defines it as the ability to “understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts.”

A Landmark Outreach article outlines some of the primary skills that are associated with self-awareness. These skills include a student’s ability to recognize and identify their own emotions, develop a perception of “self” which matches reality, believe in their capacity to achieve goals, and determine their areas of strength and weakness.

Additionally, developing self-awareness may require students to reflect on and examine their prejudices and biases and create a mindset that facilitates continuous personal growth. Essentially, for students, self-awareness is about self-reflection and building an understanding of who they are as a person.

2. Self-Management

Self-management is a concept closely related to self-awareness, and in many ways, it follows from its development. For example, the CASEL framework describes self-management as the ability to “manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations” to achieve personal aspirations.

An overview from Greater Good in Education explores this concept further. It states that self-management is a process that involves students navigating their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions so that they develop an ability to make decisions that benefit not only themselves but also those around them, too.

Some of the primary skills associated with self-management include setting goals, maintaining attention, managing and controlling emotions, demonstrating resilience, and utilizing feedback to make personal progress.

3. Social Awareness

The following skill area associated with social-emotional learning is social awareness. An excellent way to think of this is by contrasting it with self-awareness. While the former refers to students’ ability to understand themselves and their actions, social awareness is about becoming more aware of other people and feeling compassion for them.

Social awareness also involves demonstrating empathy and understanding. For example, an article written for details some of the skills associated with social awareness. Such skills include the ability to understand the perspectives of others, to appreciate diversity in terms of different backgrounds and cultures.

One of the ways teachers may be able to make students more familiar with the concept of social awareness is by explaining the idea of The Golden Rule, which can be summarized as “treat others the way you want to be treated.”

4. Relationship Skills

The fourth main skill area associated with social-emotional learning is the area of relationship skills. Relationship skills can be broadly defined as the ability to build and maintain positive relationships with other people and learning how to communicate with others effectively while resisting negative social pressures along the way.

Part of developing relationship skills is learning to work well with others and achieve shared goals or objectives. A strong focus is also placed on conflict resolution and collaborative problem-solving, which can assist students when asked to work as part of a team or collaborate with a partner.

Furthermore, a significant part of the relationship skills component of social-emotional learning involves developing leadership skills. Instilling such skills not only means developing the skills to lead a group of people to a shared objective, but it also means creating a sense of social justice and being willing to stand up for the needs and rights of other people.

5. Responsible Decision-Making

The final main area associated with social-emotional learning is responsible decision-making. This skill can be described as the ability to make ethical, safe, caring, and constructive decisions while remaining mindful of the consequences of personal behavior or the potential outcomes that are likely to emerge from different choices.

Ultimately, the responsible decision-making component teaches students to evaluate their decisions’ potential benefits and consequences. It is also about these skills being applied in and out of school.

One of the aspects highlighted in an article written for Positive Action is that decisions can have social, emotional, physical, and intellectual outcomes or consequences. Another critical aspect is teaching students that positive decisions can lead to growth and positive change, while negative decisions have the opposite effect.

Key social-emotional learning areas

Why is Social-Emotional Learning Important?

Social-emotional learning is vital for students because it teaches them crucial life skills, including the ability to understand themselves, develop a positive self-image, take responsibility for their actions, and forge relationships with the people around them. It can also be critical for students to build confidence and self-esteem.

Through social-emotional learning, students can gain the following tools, which are required to set goals for themselves: solve problems, persevere in the face of adversity, fight for social justice, empathize with other people, take responsibility, lead by example, and establish the kind of behaviors that most predict long-term success in modern life.

Meanwhile, social-emotional learning is also helpful for teachers. After all, as a general rule, it is much easier to teach a classroom filled with students who have the following attributes: conscientious, empathetic, self-aware, equipped to make intelligent decisions, and able to reason and give consideration to the benefits and consequences of their actions.

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The Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

The importance of social-emotional learning can be explained in a broad sense. However, it is also helpful to provide details on some of the tangible and measurable benefits of the process. Fortunately, research on the topic is emerging all the time, and we can gain a good sense of how advantageous social-emotional learning is.

CASEL compiled research from around the world, demonstrating that social-emotional learning can enhance academic performance, improve classroom behavior, decrease instances of depression and increase students’ ability to manage stress. In addition, as students move through school and into adulthood, it can reduce poverty, decrease crime and boost social mobility. Other studies have found improvements in areas like reading, writing, and mathematics.

It is also worth highlighting the employment benefits. According to a report from the World Bank Group, 79 percent of employers cite social-emotional skills as being the most important qualities for determining the chances of success. Therefore, teaching social-emotional learning can improve long-term career prospects.

Benefits of social-emotional learning

How to Teach Social-Emotional Learning

Next, it is crucial to gain an understanding of how to teach social-emotional learning processes.

In a blog post published by Edutopia, it is explained that one of the main approaches here is for teachers to create clear lessons that focus on social-emotional learning as a whole. Such lessons involve introducing the concepts to students and then creating scenarios for students to put their newly acquired skills into practice.

However, this is not the only way to further social-emotional learning within school environments. Students can also develop these skills and tools during other lessons. At the same time, everyday interactions with teachers can also help students build interpersonal skills, self-awareness, self-management skills, and decision-making abilities.

It is also absolutely vital that the concept of diversity is built into any attempts to teach social-emotional skills. For this reason, schools need to prioritize the creation of inclusive learning environments and aim to make their lessons as accessible and free from unnecessary barriers as possible to all students.

Social-Emotional Feedback Within Teaching

In addition to teaching skills associated with social-emotional learning, teachers can also use social-emotional feedback to inform their lessons. In simple terms, this refers to the process of sensing the mood of students in a classroom. It also means being aware of students’ different emotional states or responses to specific parts of the lesson.

However, attempts to monitor the emotional state of students in a lesson while delivering that lesson can be difficult and can result in a loss of focus on the core content. Fortunately, technological solutions can assist with this, and a great example is myViewBoard Sens, which functions as an IoT “edge” sensor.

The myViewBoard Sens product offers next-generation social-emotional feedback, using motion sensor technology to track room occupancy and emotion recognition technology to determine happiness, sadness, amazement, attentiveness, and other emotional states. In this way, teachers can get a much better sense of the state of their class, not only in the moment but over the short, medium, and long term.

Going further, teachers can connect a smartphone to the device and receive discreet, instant feedback on the current emotional state of the class and the level of engagement. Using this information, it is then possible to make adjustments to the lesson, in the moment, to boost engagement and achieve better outcomes.

Final Thoughts

Social-emotional learning can be thought of as the process of teaching students the most critical skills and abilities they will need for their educational journey and their working life after that. As the term suggests, such skills assist students’ socialization and emotional development. Social-emotional learning includes the following:

  • Developing a sense of self.
  • Building relationships with other people.
  • Solving problems.
  • Overcoming obstacles.
  • Developing empathy.
  • Gaining a sense of social justice and learning to manage emotions.

Lessons can directly address these topics to develop core skills or integrate them into other classes. In addition, research suggests that focusing on social-emotional learning can boost long-term prospects. In contrast, the related concept of social-emotional feedback can assist teachers in making lessons more engaging.

A common way to engage students in social-emotional learning is through video modeling or other video-assisted learning methodologies.  If you want to learn more you can read this article about student engagement and why it’s important, or see how digital technologies can support social-emotional learning by bringing teachers and learners together with the myViewBoard visual learning platform.

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