Updated: Sep 8
Education has always been focused on preparing our children for independent adult lives, and traditionally this has led to an emphasis on improving the academic performance of students. But there is a lot more kids need to learn before they enter the real world besides Maths, English and Science.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is what allows the development of key skills that enable us to function effectively within a community. Things like managing our emotions, altering our behaviours to suit different contexts, building healthy relationships, setting goals and being empathic towards those around us.
While you may think these skills come naturally, they are learned and refined over time. And with our children being stuck at home more than ever before, these skills are less widespread.
The Need for SEL Starts Early
There is a very good chance that you witnessed children who are yet to develop their SEL skills at your local shops.
Visit any checkout line that is littered with an assortment of treats and you will find kids throwing a tantrum to get what they crave. As the children’s rage grows and their shouting begins, parents will either cave-in and get them the treat or try their best to ignore them as the rest of the customers suffer from the screaming.
With the right SEL training provided to students early and often in the world of education, perhaps we can escape from such scenes being displayed by children and adults.
Troubling Behavior Continues to Manifest as Adults
Like most things in life, the ability to manage emotions is learnt and requires consistent practice throughout childhood and into ours adult lives. Without this consistent work, the risk of this lack of emotional control and social skills continuing is high.
One need to only take a glance at most social media and you will notice a society of people that need to be reeducated on how to play well with others. In fact, back in 2016, Microsoft created essentially a Twitter artificial intelligence chatbot that would learn how to correspond with others from analyzing the posts and comments across the social media site. It would then start posting its own comments. Sounds pretty innocent, right?
It took all of 16 hours before they had to deactivate the account and stop the experiment as it became extremely offensive and abusive in its tweets just by emulating others on Twitter. This leads many of us to think that social media does bring out the worst in people as it allows them to articulate their real feelings in a sense of anonymity.
Whatever the case may be, social media sites are another clear indicator of why SEL is needed early and often in society today.
How to Approach Introducing More Social and Emotional Learning in School
It is extremely difficult to argue with someone like the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetans. “It is vital that when educating our children’s brains, we do not neglect to educate their hearts,” he once stated. It is almost as if he saw ahead to our future as a society.
By focusing on implementing SEL early in a child’s education when its benefits and efficiency are at its highest, we eliminate the need to cover these essential skills into adolescence and adulthood.
Researchers looked into 213 school-based SEL programs with more than 270,000 students ranging from kindergarten to senior school, to see the impacts of learning things like appropriate behaviour, emotional regulation, empathy, and goal setting. The students demonstrated stronger academic performance and fewer behavioural issues across the board. In fact, they achieved an 11 percentile-point gain which is evidence that a strong SEL program compliments a strong academic curriculum.
But that is not all. These students were able to manage their emotions much better and exemplified stronger mental health. All of these benefits carried on even when the SEL programs halted.
SEL Can Be Illustrated Every Day in the Classroom
Even if schools do not have operational SEL programs in place for all of their students, this does not mean that individual teachers cannot implement their own SEL training in the classroom. It doesn’t have to take much to change students’ behaviors for the better. It may just surprise you at how easy something like this can be accomplished.
Students emulate behavior that they witness from adults and peers. If the actions they view are detrimental and harmful, there is a good chance this is the behaviour they will replicate. If the behavior is honest, pleasant, caring, and appropriate, they will instead imitate this more positive beahviou. Here are some simple ways to introduce SEL into every classroom around the globe.
Engage with students personally. Ask about their day, greet them individually
Quietly and empathically offer help to those students who seem to struggle.
Encourage daily goal setting. Whether it’s mastering times tables, making a new friend or completing the monkey bars..
Share personal stories. Let the students know how others have struggled in life and overcome.
Establish partnerships often in the classroom.
Ask the students to perform one act of kindness a day where the person receiving the kind act will never know that it was you.