Commentary: People need social emotional learning

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which people learn to manage their emotions and maintain healthy relationships. It is beneficial for students to receive SEL instruction in the classroom, as well as at home. This instruction has a positive influence on both individual students and their schools.

SEL addresses five critical areas of social-emotional knowledge: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills as well as responsible decision-making, as described by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

  • Self-awareness involves the identification of one’s emotions, recognition of strengths in one’s self and others, sense of self-efficacy, and self-confidence.

  • Self-management pertains to impulse control, stress management, persistence, goal setting and motivation.

  • Social awareness includes empathy, respect for others and the ability to see different perspectives.

  • Relationships skills involve cooperation, willingness to seek and provide help and communication. Responsible decision-making requires the skills to evaluate and reflect as well as personal and ethical responsibility.

Research has shown that SEL has positive effects on academic performance, physical health, citizenship, as well as reduce the risk of maladjustment. Well-designed SEL and well-implemented SEL programming can improve assertiveness and communication skills while reducing internalizing and externalizing disorders. Structured classroom instruction over multiple years that applies social-emotional skills to real-life situations has shown the most lasting impact for students.

Overall, social-emotional learning helps to foster a sense of positive community. When a school is not a safe, engaging space, the attention necessary for learning is at risk.

Social-emotional learning can take place alongside academic instruction. For instance, problem-solving and critical-thinking activities can be incorporated into academic curricula such as literacy, history, and performing arts. The instructional process can be altered to include cooperative learning as well as project-based learning.

Additionally, students can be involved in improving school and classroom climates. Behavior management and discipline practices can infuse social-emotional reflection that includes positive behavior and opportunities to contribute to the school. Schools that encourage positive relationships between adults and students are more likely to have successful learning environments. How can educators develop this supportive environment? By enabling students and families to be connected and engaged and maintaining culturally and linguistically responsive practices.

Through SEL, students learn to manage their emotions, maintain healthy relationships and make positive life decisions. Receiving SEL instruction at school helps children be healthier and happier through academic and social success.

Casey Dupart

Casey Dupart, a school psychologist behavior analyst, is the interim multi-tiered system of supports coordinator at the Utah State Board of Education, where she provides leadership, collaboration and oversight of local education agencies with developing academic as well as social-emotional interventions.