The Necessity of Social-Emotional Learning

The awareness that children and teenagers need Social-Emotional Skills to be successful at school, at home, and to lead happy and meaningful lives continues to grow. These are the skills that are essential to helping children build confidence, gain a grasp of their strengths and weaknesses, work together with others, successfully navigate social situations, build lasting relationships, and make better choices.

As every teacher knows, there isn’t enough time to work on everything that the children need. As a result, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) takes a back seat to other more critical skills like reading, writing, and math. While no one would argue that such skills are the building blocks of education, the importance of SEL cannot be underestimated.

It is important to remember that Social-Emotional Learning isn’t just one type of instruction. Rather, SEL encompasses an entire approach designed to help children build the requisite social and emotional skills to be happy and prosperous. Below are some easy ways you can incorporate SEL into your already-busy classroom.

How To Implement Social-Emotional Learning:

1. Journal Writing  Journal writing that helps children think about social-emotional skills can be integrated into the daily schedule. For example, you could ask the kids to write about, “When was the last time you exercised self-control?” or “What happened when you were able to control yourself?” After writing in their journal, ask the students to share what they wrote with a friend to reinforce the experience.

2. Read Aloud to Teach Perspective  Many teachers are already using this strategy to integrate SEL. Go beyond reading the story by talking about what the characters may be feeling or thinking. Focus on highlighting the perspective of a particular character to help the students understand others’ thoughts and emotions.

3. Use Art as a Mode of Expression  Art has proven to be a highly effective way to impact social and emotional skills. Have the students create a collage of themselves to help them gain self-awareness. Drawing and painting offer the added benefit of being helpful strategies to cope with and manage stress. Working with other children adds the opportunity of building relationships and collaboration skills.

4. Hold Class Meetings  Class meetings can be held either daily or weekly. The objective of the class meeting is to allow children to solve problems as a group, plan group events, or to share positive feelings about others in a public forum. Building a community among the students strengthens the positive climate in the classroom.

5. Talk About Managing Emotions  Managing emotions is an important skill that children and teenagers need to practice continuously. This skill can be woven into discussions about literature. Drill down into the reaction of one of the characters in the story to create a talking point about how the character successfully managed emotions or failed to do so.

6. Work on Problem Solving  When students come to you with a problem or challenge, resist the temptation to solve it immediately. Instead, encourage your students to brainstorm to find a solution. Before helping them, request that they spend 10 minutes trying to solve it themselves. You will be surprised at how often they rise to the challenge and do exactly that.

7. Build Community with Teamwork  Create larger teams among the students for assignments and class projects. Give your students the responsibility to assign other children specific roles and jobs. Handing out responsibilities to others builds the children in a very special way.

8. Encourage Reflection  Don’t just jump to the next assignment or task. After the children have completed their work, give time and encouragement to reflect on what they have done. This crucial SEL skill has wide application across the entire curriculum, whether it be reading, writing, math, or any other subject.

9. Integrate Mindfulness  Mindfulness has been shown to help people calm down and relax. This tool can be especially useful before an exam when children are naturally uptight and stressed. Many children don’t understand how to calm themselves and need guidance. Mindfulness, together with breathing strategies, can alter the child’s experience of stressful situations.

10. Designate a “Calming Down Area”  Such an area is not for every child but, for those who need it, such a “sanctuary” can be a lifesaver. Make the area a natural place to relax with a bean bag, some fidgets, books that promote relaxation, and anything else you can think of that will help the child to calm down. When calm is achieved, the child can return.

11. Encourage Acts of Kindness  Don’t hesitate to encourage the children to perform random acts of kindness. Create a special jar where the students can place notes they have written about other students who have done something helpful. Find some time at the end of the week to read the notes aloud to encourage everyone to participate.

12. Discuss Empathy  Empathy is perhaps the most important social-emotional skill for the children to learn. It is the necessary foundation for children to respond in socially compassionate and appropriate ways. Discussions can either be free-standing, woven into class instruction or into the discussion of literature.

13. Teach How to Disagree Respectfully  Disagreement is inevitable and isn’t necessarily bad. However, learning how to disagree respectfully without insulting or hurting another is an essential skill needed for a lifetime. Encourage discussions and debates where children are taught to actively listen to another with whom they disagree, and show them how to express their opinions respectfully.

14. Do a Lot of Role-Playing  Many times we are unable to truly understand another’s position or perspective until we are in their shoes. It is beneficial for children to role-play potentially uncomfortable situations, to understand the feelings of another and become empathetic.

15. Make Time for Talking  Be sure to provide plenty of opportunities for children to talk. These times need to be both structured and unstructured. Children need that time to share ideas and solve problems. “Talk Time” will help the children build their self-confidence and understanding of others, as well as express their own feelings.