What is SEL? Social and Emotional Learning

By | April 10, 2016

Social and Emotional Learning is learning how to understand and manage our emotions.

It’s learning how to make friends and how to show people that we care about them. It’s learning how to work in a team and collaborate well. It’s learning how to make healthy, responsible decisions, both short and long term.

When we become better at this set of skills, we can say that we have more “emotional intelligence”. We’re not letting our emotions get the better of us. We’re becoming aware of them and how to regulate them for success.

Research now proves that this set of skills not only helps children learn in school, it helps them develop into happier, healthier children all round. It sets them on a path to thrive in every area of their lives. Research also proves that these skills can be taught.

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The History of SEL

The term Emotional Intelligence came into prominence with Daniel Goleman’s 1995 best selling book Emotional Intelligence. He described EQ as the ability to “persist in the face of frustrations; control impulse and delay gratification; regulate one’s mood and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; empathize and hope.” He showed why these qualities “mark people who excel.” He also highlighted a school in Northern California that was seeing transformative results by teaching Social and Emotional Learning skills to its students. This school was The Nueva School. Janice Toben, M.Ed., founder of the Institute for SEL, and mother of two, led this charge.

Since then, leaders in academia, psychology and K-12 education have continued to build on the work and research highlighted in Goleman’s book. Yale’s Peter Salovey, now the President of Yale, Professor John Mayer and psychologist David Caruso developed an Emotional Intelligence Test in the late 1990’s, which to this day is used in businesses and organizations worldwide to gage employees’ EQ. Yale’s Roger Weissberg, Daniel Goleman and education visionaries Tim Shriver and Eileen Rockefeller Growald formed the Collaborative of Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to make SEL part of education from preschool to high school.

Research proving the power of EQ and the efficacy of SEL has continued to build. In the last three years however, research supporting SEL in both positive psychology and academia has markedly increased. We can no longer ignore that our children need Social and Emotional Learning skills to feel safe, supported and happy, to achieve academically and to succeed in the 21st century.

SEL in Schools and Beyond

If you’ve heard of Social and Emotional Learning or SEL before it may have been in your child’s school. There is growing acknowledgement amongst U.S. educators and policymakers of the importance of social and emotional development for successful student performance.

It makes sense: when students and teachers practice understanding and managing emotions, persevering, empathy, collaborating and making responsible decisions, they are able to learn more and schools are safer. In 2011, research from a meta-analysis of 213 studies showed that children in schools that fully implemented SEL programs performed better academically, had greater motivation and better classroom behavior, showed less aggression, and reported less depression, anxiety and stress.

At If You Can, we believe that SEL should be an integral part of classroom learning, and that your child should always feel safe and supported. In school, recess, after school programs or sports, when adults model and children practice SEL skills, the entire community transforms. Take a look at our “In Your Community” page for programs that incorporate SEL across all of these environments, and explore how you and your child can get involved!

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