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What Is Social and Emotional Learning?

Posted on July 05 2021

What Is Social and Emotional Learning?


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By Becky Sicking

Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, is an important framework of holistic teaching for the twenty-first century. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identified the standard five core competencies within SEL. They are: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness.

Let’s look closer at these five competencies.

Self-Awareness According to CASEL, self-awareness involves “the abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.” Humans are social, and societies have cultures that we must understand and integrate with to be effective socially. When people are able to integrate their personal identity and social identity, they are practicing self-awareness skills. This includes identifying your skills, emotions, and values. To be self-aware, people evaluate their own biases as well as prejudices. They are interested in growing and learning more about themselves. They have a sense of purpose and are self-sufficient. These goals are important for teachers to impart to their students.

Self-Management CASEL describes self-management as having “the abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal/collective goals.” Managing oneself takes courage and initiative. It is easy to be overcome by emotions, for example, and act accordingly. However, acting in this way can be harmful to oneself or to others. Self-discipline is required to achieve competency in self-management.

Responsible Decision-Making “The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being,” is the description of this competency, based on CASEL. In order to make responsible decisions, one has to be proficient in critical-thinking skills. This is one of the reasons that these skills are vital in the classroom and often appear in assessments. Making quality decisions affects an individual, yes, but it also affects one’s family and community. Quality decisions start with the open-mindedness to evaluate different points of view or different choices. With an open mind, a person can determine what problems they face, or society faces, and act accordingly after careful thought. To do this, a person must be able to think about the consequences of their actions. In this way, you can see how responsible decision-making involves the other competencies. For example, self-discipline is needed to evaluate different points of view and not make decisions based on emotions.

Relationship Skills Once again, let’s look at how CASEL defines this competency: It involves “the abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.” Clearly, mastering relationship skills is a vital component of all humans because humans are social. Positive relationships are built on communication skills. Working and solving problems together in teams is an essential skill in life and in the work environment. Resolving conflicts also falls within this competency. Leaders usually demonstrate strong relationship skills, but it is equally important to seek out help. For students, in particular, resisting social pressure is a component of this skill that directly affects them. In addition, standing up for the rights of others demonstrates not only this competency, but interrelates with the others as well.

Social Awareness According to CASEL, this skill includes “the abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.”  Empathy for others is a key component of social awareness. By having empathy and compassion, one can understand others, identify their feelings, and show appropriate concern. Social awareness helps one recognize others’ strengths as well as perspectives. Like the other competencies, you can see how Social Awareness interacts with and interconnects with the other four competencies. Together, these five skills address developmental skills that are not only necessary for success personally, but also for achievement at work and at home. However, ideally, we are working on improving these skills throughout our lives. Though improving SEL is a process that lasts a lifetime, the more of these skills you acquire at a younger age, the better social outcome you are likely to have.

SEL in the Social Studies Classroom Each of the five SEL competencies have complimentary skills that apply to learning social studies content. Numerous critical-thinking skills support the competencies. For example, to address self-awareness, you can evaluate multiple perspectives when you draw conclusions about a topic. Projects that inspire you to understand your ability to effect change also address this competency. Assignments that require you to work to meet deadlines require you to employ self-management skills. Responsible decision-making applies to civics and economics in particular. In geography and environmental studies, if you understand how humans interact with the environment, you will understand the consequences of actions, which in turn supports your own decision-making skills. Understanding how conflicts arose and how they were resolved addresses relationship skills. Classroom discussions also employ this skill as you learn to listen with empathy and an open mind as well as take turns. Social awareness is especially important in all of the social studies subject areas. Clearly, examining primary sources, engaging in community projects, reflecting on historical perspectives, etc. all encompass social awareness. SEL is adaptable to English Language Arts (ELA) and science as well. Here at Maps101, we encourage you, as students, to consider the importance of SEL and how your studies help prepare you to be a successful person in the twenty-first century.


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