Education is full of acronyms—ESSA, AYP, CCS, TEA, TEKS, IEP. It leaves you thinking IDK because TMI. However, SEL, the newest acronym on the block, is one which deserves a lot of attention and respect.
Social-Emotional Learning, SEL, is forefront in educational conversations given the events (at schools and other public venues) the past couple of years in our society. Since high-stakes testing the focus of our education system has been at improving academics but at what cost to students and society. The pendulum is beginning to swing, and we are seeing a shift to educating the whole child and not just the 3 R’s (Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic). Additionally, more research has become available on the impact of emotions on learning.
SEL goes beyond having grit and a growth mindset, as it teaches students how to cope with their emotions, as well as work collaboratively while being respectful and empathetic with each other. It looks at the climate of a school to determine if it is having a positive impact on students’ education. A big factor in improving the climate of the school is the adults in the building. So, it is not just students who are learning emotional coping skills.
Students have to be taught that having emotions are not bad, as everyone has a variety of emotions and it is natural to feel them. It is okay to experience negative emotions as life is not always happy. We cannot be joyful all the time, nor can we be sheltered from negative experiences. This reminds me of the movie Inside Out in that Joy was always trying to make happy memories for Riley which cause her not to be able to cope with the negative experience of moving to a new state. Students must learn how to express their emotions without harming others as well as proper emotional reactions (for both positive and negative emotions). Additionally, they need to have their emotions validated but then be given the guidance on how to manage their emotions.
A couple simple strategies in managing emotions is deep breathing and counting to 10 (or beyond) in your head when you feel your emotions are rising. Of course, one needs to be aware of when emotions are increasing in a situation to be able to take a step back from the situation to regroup. In a classroom (or home), a safe space should be created for students to go handle their emotions without feeling they are being punished. Empathy does not come naturally, so students have to be taught how to walk in someone else’s shoes in order to gain an understanding of another’s perspective. Once students are aware of their emotions’ impact on others, then they can better self-regulate their reactions and think not just about personal consequences but also about the effects on their peers (or teachers).
As we look to improve education in our society, know it’s not just about the 3 R’s but also about SEL and educating the whole child.