A recent webinar by the organization CASEL explored our new understanding of social-emotional learning. If you’re a parent or a professional working with young people, it’s worth taking a couple minutes to check in with your understanding of the social-emotional skills that make kids ready to learn. Here we go!
CASEL defines social-emotional learning as, “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.”
Though many schools have social-emotional curricula, CASEL points out that SEL isn’t something can be taught exclusively at school. Equipping kids with SEL skills is a partnership between schools and all the other influences in a child’s life, including parents, guardians, grandparents, coaches and more.
And these skills are important. According to CASEL, decades of studies show that SEL skills lead to the following benefits:
• Improvement in students’ social and emotional skills, attitudes, relationships, academic performance, and perceptions of classroom and school climate.
• Decline in students’ anxiety, behavior problems, and substance use.
• Long-term improvements in students’ skills, attitudes, prosocial behavior, and academic performance
• Wise financial investment according to cost-benefit research
In fact, SEL is not one skill like the name implies but many interrelated skills including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Of course, each of these skills is itself composed of many sub-skills. For example, CASEL defines self-awareness as the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. Within this skill are subdomains or related skills including integrating personal and social identities, identifying personal, cultural, and linguistic assets, identifying one’s emotion, demonstrating honesty and integrity, linking feelings, values, and thoughts, examining prejudices and biases, experiencing self-efficacy, having a growth mindset and developing interests and a sense of purpose. (For subdomains of each of the five SEL skills, please visit CASEL.org.)
If these descriptions sound complex, it is only because our social and emotional life is complex. In fact, our social-emotional life is every bit as complex as our intellectual life — and despite this fact, until recently, schools have prioritized intellectual instruction at the expense of social-emotional instruction, expecting young people to somehow “figure out” their emotional worlds on their own. (Is it any surprise we’re in the midst of a youth mental health crisis?)
The crisis is obvious. The need for social-emotional learning is now understood. To equip yourself with the tools needed to promote social-emotional learning in young people, we encourage you to explore additional resources at CASEL.org.
Garth Sundem is a parent, husband, and author of books including “Real Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change”.