Reflections on Social Emotional Learning

SEL – Social and Emotional Learning aka Personal and Social Education (PSE) and two thirds of the English PSHE curriculum (Personal, Social and Health Education). But what is it? What is it not? Why is it important?

I work in a ‘SEL School’. The school promotes itself as one that specialises in promoting the students’ social and emotional well-being whilst having kindness at the centre of everything they do. Lofty ideals which I believe most educators would hold dear to their hearts. Being a ‘SEL school’ we regularly find ourselves wrestling with the questions I mentioned at the start. Now I personally would argue that all schools are ‘SEL schools’ but let’s leave that one on the side for now. This blog is about my reflections on these three questions.

What is it?

I would suggest SEL is the development of students’ social skills when dealing with others. It’s the development of their ability to effectively manage their feelings and also the ability to be able to empathise with others. It is the idea that we want students to leave school with the tools to be able to act in an appropriate way in a range of social or professional situations. In order to do this they need to be aware of their emotions and be able to manage these emotions. They also need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of others in a similar situation and use this to help them to act in a responsive, nuanced and socially appropriate manner. SEL is developing the EQ the students need to give them the best possible chance of success, both personal and professional, in their future lives. After all, studies continue to show that aptitude and academic achievement can only get people so far.

What is it not? 

I would argue that it is not self-care. I believe that self-care comes under the banner of self-regulation and mindfulness. These skills are central in enabling the students to be able to manage their feelings, an essential outcome in my view of a successful SEL curriculum, but if they become too prominent SEL can quickly descend into what a colleague has dubbed SELfishness. Rather they need to be taught as an element of a successful SEL approach which is focussed on developing the students EQ for the future. It is also not the students getting to do what they want when they want; nor is it them being encouraged to act however they wish even if this is outside of social norms. After all, the idea of SEL is preparing students to have the resources they need to be socially and emotionally literate adults.

Why is it important?

This is one that I believe is easy to build consensus around. Our job as educators is two-fold:

  1. To play our role in a long line of educators who will develop the skills, knowledge and understanding that will hopefully enable the student to achieve their full potential in later life.
  2. To develop the humans who will influence societies views on a range of issues and hopefully make the world a better place to be.

No pressure! However, both of these aims are underpinned by the need for students to have a high level of EQ and a good SEL programme develops this in the students. If you want to read more about emotional intelligence this article goes into a bit more detail about the importance of emotional intelligence in people’s professional lives.

What are your thoughts about SEL? How do you deliver this aspect of the curriculum in your school? Is it effective? Do you agree that all schools are essentially ‘SEL schools’? Please leave your comments below.

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