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[Parent Tips] 5 Common Questions About Social and Emotional Learning

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 -- Elaine Ho

Parents realize that success is about a lot more than “book smarts”, and focus on teaching lessons about moral character and interpersonal relationships in some way, shape, or form at home. However, teaching these social and emotional skills is a becoming an increasing focus in classrooms and formal curriculum as well.

The leading champion for social-emotional learning, or SEL, is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which was created in 1994. Its definition of SEL is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Simply put, SEL is about learning life skills—managing oneself, building relationships, and working in an effective manner both independently and collaboratively. It’s about teaching students not only how to learn in the classroom but also how to grow and mature into self-sufficient and responsible people. Here are five common questions answered to help you better understand social and emotional learning and how to support your child’s development of these important skills:

Why is SEL important?

SEL curriculum focuses on teaching students how to control their behavior, how to view the impact of their behavior on others, and how to empathize and collaborate. Learning these skills not only prepares students for a broad range of real-world experiences but also helps them improve academic performance.

In a 2017 meta-analysis of studies on the student impact of SEL program participation, CASEL researchers have seen many long-term benefits, including a 6% increase in high school graduation rates and an 11% increase in college graduation rates. SEL also has been cited as a factor in positive family and work relationships, improved mental health, reduced criminal behavior, and engaged citizenship. SEL has widespread implications on a person’s life, so it is gaining increasing importance for cultivation in students.

What skills are taught in SEL programs?

Some skills emphasized in formal SEL programs include fostering gratitude, encouraging kindness and empathy, cultivating perseverance and resilience, building mindfulness, and learning how to collaborate and work in groups. These skills are taught in the classroom in a wide variety of ways, through explicit instruction and incorporation within other academic lessons, and as part of a teacher’s approach to classroom management. For an in-depth look at the value of and approaches to different SEL topics, check out this Parent’s Resource Guide to Social and Emotional Learning from Edutopia.

What does SEL look like in the classroom?

SEL can take a variety of forms. While some schools, like this charter high school in California, choose to provide specialized courses on SEL concepts, others simply incorporate SEL teaching into academic lessons on a regular basis. SEL practices may take the form of conducting a two-minute mindfulness exercise before or after jumping into a new topic, providing opportunities for group work and using that a chance to introduce effective strategies for collaboration, or building empathy with activities that ask students to explore the perspective of a historical figure they’re learning about or a character in a novel they’re reading.

Does my state have SEL standards in place?

The shortest answer is that it depends. Only certain states have implemented formal, measurable standards tied to SEL. Illinois was the first to do so in 2004, establishing goals across all grade levels for schools to aim for, but most states are not this far along in the process. Check out CASEL’s state scan scorecard to see what (if any) SEL standards your state has in place.

It’s also important to note that some experts argue that the Common Core State Standards adopted by a majority of states implicitly require SEL learning. For example, in achieving math goals related to problem solving, SEL can be incorporated into teaching perseverance, managing personal stress, and seeking help when needed. Also, achieving literacy and language arts goals may involve learning how to evaluate another person’s emotions, recognizing your own emotions, and communicating effectively.

For the most detailed information on SEL standards your child has to meet, check out your state education agency’s website. It’s also helpful to talk with your child’s teacher to understand how he or she is implementing SEL learning in the classroom.

How can I help my children with SEL?

Cultivating SEL skills begins with modeling SEL practices—so, you can make a big difference at home! Children will not see the value of developing SEL skills if they don’t see them being lived out in adults they respect. Make a point of talking about how you use these skills in your day-to-day life with simple things like keeping a calendar to manage your time and commitments, setting goals for yourself, and trying different approaches when working through a problem (even if it’s just how to put together some new assembly required furniture). You can also model strong SEL skills in your interactions with your child and other family members and friends—share your feelings, avoid judgmental comments about others, work cooperatively, and forestall anger by asking questions to understand another’s point of view. Check out these SEL Strategies for Parents from Edutopia for plenty of great ideas.

Social and emotional learning ties into nearly all aspects of academics and daily life. Looking for resources to dive into some more specific topics? Check out these blog posts for in-depth tips!