Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Importance of Social Emotional Learning

A respectful, safe, caring environment is essential in order for students to learn effectively.  Teachers must get along with students and students must get along with each other.  If this social environment isn’t created than chaos prevails.  The school is a social setting that teaches those skills that allow people to interact in a positive proactive way.   A structured systematic approach to enhance social emotional learning and academic performance has shown in research as an achievable accomplishment (Elias, 2003). 

As a society there are certain attributes that all people should possess.   Schools, parents, communities need to involve themselves in teaching their children literacy, how to express their thoughts and opinions.  Children need to understand math and science at a level that makes them competent to engage in regular interactions with others in the world.  Members of this society must also be able to problem solve and to take responsibility for their actions, health and personal well-being.   Effective people and communities are those that are caring, respectful and empathetic to others, build effective relationships that promote growth and development, and are capable of making sound moral decisions. 

Educating the “whole person” takes all these attributes into consideration with emphasis on both social and emotional learning and academic skills.  The idea of educating the whole child is not a new premise but it has been a source of challenge for many years.   Social emotional learning is the link between academics and people being successful in managing life tasks, relationships, communication, and sensitivity to others.  Growing up with a strong moral compass and the skills for success in the workplace, community and family is essential to becoming a balanced individual.  How do schools implement programming that balances and provides a learning environment that encourages the child to reach their full emotional and academic potential?   

Academic and Social Emotional Learning by Maurice Elias give educators a starting point to begin looking at implementing a balanced approach to academics, lasting social emotional learning and strong character education.   The manual that was produced is an excellent resource for schools and communities.  He outlines specific ideas and research to promote a holistic outlook. 

 Learning Requires Caring:  Learning environments that are not threatening to students and include students as resources promote effective academic learning and positive interactions. 

Practical applications

• Greet all students by name when they enter the school or classroom.

• Begin and/or end the school day with brief periods of time for students to reflect on what they have learned recently and what they might want to learn next.

• Create rules in the classroom that recognize positive behaviour, such as co-operation, caring, helping encouragement and support. Be sure that discipline rules and procedures are clear, firm, fair and consistent.

• Show interest in their personal lives outside the school.

• Ask them what kinds of learning environments have been most and least successful for them in the past and use this information to guide instruction.

Suggested readings: Kriete & Bechtel, 2002; Lewis, Schaps & Watson, 1996; O’Neil, 1997;Osterman, 2000


Teach Everyday Life SkillsLife skills that promote academic and social-emotional learning must be taught explicitly in every grade level.

CASEL’s essential skills for academic and social-emotional learning

Know yourself and others:

• Identify feelings—recognize and label one’s feelings;

• Be responsible—understand one’s obligation to engage in ethical, safe and legal behaviours;

• Recognize strengths—identify and cultivate one’s positive qualities.

Make responsible decisions:

• Manage emotions—regulate feelings so that they aid rather than impede the handling of situations;

• Understand situations—accurately understand the circumstances one is in;

• Set goals and plans—establish and work toward the achievement of specific short- and long-term outcomes;

• Solve problems creatively—engage in a creative, disciplined process of exploring alternative possibilities that leads to responsible, goal-directed action, including overcoming obstacles to plans.

Care for others:

• Show empathy—identifying and understanding the thoughts and feelings of others;

• Respect others—believing that others deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion as part of our shared humanity;

• Appreciate diversity—understanding that individual and group differences complement one another and add strength and adaptability to the world around us.

Know how to act:
• Communicate effectively—using verbal and non-verbal skills to express oneself and promote effective exchanges with others;

• Build relationships—establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding connections with individual and groups;

• Negotiate fairly—achieving mutually satisfactory resolutions to conflict by addressing the needs of all concerned;

• Refuse provocations—conveying and following through effectively with one’s decision not to engage in unwanted, unsafe, unethical behaviour;

• Seek help—identifying the need for and accessing appropriate assistance and support in pursuit of needs and goals;

• Act ethically—guide decisions and actions by a set of principles or standards derived from recognized legal/professional codes or moral or faith-based systems of conduct.

Practical applications

• Consider adopting a social-emotional skill-building programme that has shown demonstrated effectiveness in populations and circumstances similar to yours; listings and Internet links to listings are available at www.CASEL.org,  www.NASPonline.org and in the ‘Resources’ section of this booklet.

• Use CASEL’s list of skills to help students prepare for academic assignments, projects, homework and tests.

• Ask students when it is important in their lives to use each of the skills. Then, help them build and use the skills when these situations arise.

• Each week, try to incorporate building one skill on CASEL’s list of skills into your usual instructional routine. Continue throughout the year, reviewing and deepening what you do as you repeat each skill.
Suggested readings: Connell et al., 1986; Elias et al., 1997; Elias, Tobias & Friedlander., 2000; Goleman, 1995; Topping & Bremner, 1998; Zins et al., 2003.

Link Social-Emotional Instruction to other School Services -  Application of social emotional skills to everyday life is aided greatly by a consistent developmentally appropriate structure of supportive services in the school.

Specific instruction is required on issues like smoking, sexuality, drug use, alcohol, violence and bullying.  Children will benefit from structured, explicit, developmentally sensitive instruction in the prevention of issues affecting young people.... Many more can be included in this list.  Don’t wait until children show that they are having difficulties in these areas.  Teach them the skills before they become involved in risky behaviour. 

Practical applications

• Provide time in the school curriculum each year for instruction in appropriate health issues and problem behaviour prevention.

• Organize guidance and counselling services so that they help build social-emotional skills of groups of children who are anticipating or facing difficult situations.

• Allow planning time for staff to co-ordinate their efforts at supporting academic and social-emotional learning.

Suggested readings: Adelman & Taylor, 2000; Comer et al., 1999; Elias et al., 1997; Jessor, 1993; Perry & Jessor, 1985.





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