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The Complete Guide to Social Emotional Learning: Everything to Know

Research shows that social-emotional learning (SEL) programs benefit students not just emotionally, but academically. A meta-analysis of over 200 SEL programs determined that students’ academic achievement rose by 11%.

When planning instruction, the main focus may be academic goals, particularly when it comes to students with special needs. Students under the special education umbrella may be behind their peers in reading, writing, and math, so the pressure to catch them up can be intense.

Whether a student has special needs or not, introducing SEL into everyday learning is always important.

What is social-emotional learning? What types of social and emotional learning activities can be a part of a student’s everyday schedule?

Keep reading for a comprehensive guide on SEL and how you can teach these skills to children of all ages.

What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

The social-emotional learning definition consists of 5 core competencies. These competencies can be applied at school, at home, and throughout the community.

1. Self-Awareness

Many children don’t understand or know how to handle their thoughts and feelings. With practice, children can learn to recognize their feelings and learn respectful ways of expressing them.

2. Self-Management

Once a child can name their feelings, they can learn how to regulate themselves. Managing big emotions can be a difficult task, however, using SEL children can learn appropriate ways to handle any event that comes their way.

3. Social Awareness

Even when children have a handle on their thoughts and feelings, it may be hard for them to read others. Learning empathy and recognizing that differences should be celebrated are keys to success in any setting.

4. Relationship Skills

The ability to get along with others is incredibly important, especially in a school setting. Students build positive relationships through communication, cooperation, and collaborative problem-solving.

5. Responsible Decision-Making

Children must learn to make responsible decisions about their actions. This skill involves examining choices and determining the outcome of each choice. SEL can teach Children about the benefits of making positive decisions.

The Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

Students benefit greatly from SEL. Additional benefactors are schools, families, and surrounding communities. SEL can serve children from Kindergarten up to 12th grade and beyond. 

The specific benefits of SEL are numerous. Classroom behavior can be drastically improved, academic progress can be enhanced, and SEL can bring about a decrease in depression and an increased ability to manage stress and anxiety.

Far-reaching benefits can include reduced poverty, decreased crime rates, and a boost in social mobility. Employers are on the lookout for job seekers with good SEL skills under their belt.

Social and Emotional Learning Activities

SEL lessons for children can be standalone in nature or incorporated into other subject areas. Reading can be an obvious place to build in SEL, but these skills can be taught in any subject matter with a little creativity.

When building SEL programs, the age of the students and the setting need to be taken into account. Administrators and teachers need to sit down together to plan the best way to offer SEL to the students at their school.

When planning a social-emotional learning curriculum, it’s important to consider diversity a cornerstone. All students, no matter their disability, culture, or circumstances, deserve to have access to these skills.

Elementary School

At the elementary level, all SEL competencies should be addressed. However, students at this age are just beginning their SEL journey. The best place to start may be self-awareness and self-management.

Students can learn how to name their feelings and build skills for managing them. Breathing techniques can help a student to slow down and focus on their feelings. Strategies for shifting focus may help a student break out of a difficult moment. Students with behavior issues can benefit greatly from mastering these types of skills.

Collaborative learning offers many chances to work on the other SEL competencies—social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. While working with a group, students can practice these through leading and following, compromising, and taking turns.

Middle School

Middle school years can be tumultuous for students. They are dealing with raging hormones and trickier social situations. SEL lessons can be beneficial on so many levels.

Social studies can become a great vehicle for working on SEL skills. Studying historical figures or events can help students connect to their feelings and experiences, and literature can offer students exposure to diverse characters and universal situations. 

Teachers can offer students the opportunity to share how things are going. This can be done privately or as a class, where students can be encouraged to connect in positive ways. This can increase students’ emotional health and decrease behavioral outbursts.

High School

It can be tempting to assume that high school students have mastered SEL skills. While this may be true of some students, many more still have work to do. Additionally, special education students may be lagging in their social-emotional growth.

High school students have a lot on their plates. In addition to planning for college or a career, they may have increased responsibilities outside of school. Social situations can be complex, and with easy access to social media, these situations can grow even more complicated.

Often, teenagers feel like they’re already grown up, and they may not want to talk to the adults in their lives, including their teachers. Teachers must push back and help students navigate through this busy time. 

There are many ways high schoolers can practice SEL skills. Journal writing can help with self-awareness, setting goals can be a form of self-management, and sharing successes with others can build relationship skills. Learning that others have the same concerns and feelings can help students to better navigate their teenage years.

Bringing SEL to Your School

Regardless of their age, students who participate in social and emotional learning activities are better prepared for the challenges ahead. These are skills they can carry with them no matter where they go.

Are you interested in improving the SEL skills and the behavior of students at your school? Contact us today for a demo of how our behavior management tool can help.

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