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What Is Sel
What is SEL?: A Back-to-School Refresher
August 23, 2018

What is SEL?: A Back-to-School Refresher

When parents know how students are learning and applying new social and emotional skills at school, students are able to create consistent behavior across their lives. Research shows that such consistency helps students apply SEL values more effectively across various settings — not just environments that are familiar. 

So as students head back to school, we’re giving parents a refresher on the ABCs of social and emotional development, the goal of our mission in and out of schools.

“Social and emotional learning” is the term that’s become the most recognizable for the learning of certain skills that benefit students in all areas of life — skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy, collaboration, understanding social cues, and perspective taking.

Those skills can be subdivided into three buckets:

  • Emotional skills, which include the ability to express and regulate emotions, and to be aware of your own emotions and the feelings of others
  • Interpersonal skills, which include conflict resolution and the ability to receive and give social cues
  • Cognitive regulation skills, which include working memory, adaptability, problem-solving, critical thinking, and judgement

These three buckets of skills allow students to be self-aware and socially aware and to manage their own emotions and their relationships with others.

Though schools are now aware that these skills are a vital part of a child’s education, or “whole child development” — another phrase that’s often used — they have historically been overlooked for the the more measurable development of academic success: grades, test scores, and the like.

Why SEL is important

Of course, these social and emotional and academic measures aren’t siloed from one another. Research continues to show that strengthening SEL skills can actually strengthen academic achievement as well. In fact, social and emotional skills affect nearly every aspect of our lives, from learning to relationships to future work.

In essence, SEL skills are “life skills,” necessary in all aspects of life to be a generally well-rounded, successful adult — they are essential to long-term academic, personal, and career success. Critical thinking skills, for example, are correlated with greater academic achievement, career readiness, and improved quality of life, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

Students with strong SEL skills also have the characteristics of future leaders: young people who develop their collaboration skills show a greater commitment to civic participation, academic performance in college settings, and success in the workplace, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

There are also short-term immediate effects to strengthening social and emotional intelligence. Students who participate in quality social and emotional learning programs show improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Finally, a focus on SEL skills can change a school’s culture, making it a more welcoming and safe place for students. Imagine how a whole campus of emotionally intelligent and empathetic students and teachers might interact with one another. Imagine then, how a whole city, or even a whole world, might.

How SEL is implemented

One of the best ways to implement social and emotional learning in the classroom is to integrate it with lessons and curriculum that already exist. In our after school programming and at our Spark School, we do this by weaving SEL curriculum into students’ classwork or homework. For example, students work together to size a mural using proportions, then collaborate on the design, which might include a scene depicting empathy or inclusion.

With our interactive performances, we also model the SEL skills to students, acting out scenarios they might encounter, like bullying, and asking them how they might respond. By approaching these scenarios with them, we’re able to give them a language for how to deal with relevant issues in context. Once students have learned the basics, repeated and consistent SEL practice in their day to day life, and when interacting with teachers and parents, can help reinforce the lessons learned.

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