Social emotional learning isn’t just a fancy buzzword in education. It’s an approach that integrates critical life skills into the school curriculum to help learners reach their individual potentials. There are huge benefits to teaching social-emotional skills and incorporating them into what educators are already doing.
The research indicates that implementing a social-emotional approach in schools can make a real difference. A meta-analysis of research indicated that students involved in SEL programs made gains socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically (Durlak et al., 2011). While more research is needed, one thing is clear: Teaching social and emotional skills pays off.
If you want to teach social emotional learning in your classroom but aren’t sure how, I have created an entire yearlong SEL curriculum. It is composed of five core units, each with several lessons and activities to teach the skills kids and young adults need. There are a number of significant benefits to integrating SEL into the classroom. It’s very much worth the time and effort. Kids do best when they know how, so let’s teach them the skills to get there.
Here are just a few benefits to social emotional learning in the classroom:
Improves school and class climate. Kids and young adults need to feel safe, respected, and supported in order to do their best. Incorporating SEL into your classroom encourages all of those things and more, helping to create a more positive learning community for all.
Increases student motivation. Kids and young adults want to do better when kids feel good about themselves, their teachers, and school. Integrating skills for social emotional learning can help encourage learners to be themselves, feel more accepted, work towards goals, be willing to take risks, and just love learning. More motivation is always a good thing.
Teaches problem-solving skills. Learners need strong problem-solving skills in all areas of life. A huge benefit to social emotional learning is that much of it focuses on managing situations and problems in everyday life. If you get stuck on a math problem, what can you do? If you get in a fight with a friend, how might you handle it? If someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, what could you say? All of these questions are discussions that might be taking place when SEL is integrated into the classroom.
Reduces behavior problems. So often, behavior problems are the result of skill deficits. In the words of Ross Greene, kids do well when they can. Once we teach skills for problem-solving, working with others, and managing emotions, we are likely to see student behavior improve.
Helps students set and meet goals. A big part of self-management is creating specific and measurable goals for the future. Goal setting is important in all areas of life, whether someone is making a goal to improve their math grade or identifying steps to get their dream job.
Gives a space to talk about mental health. Mental health is extremely important and often not talked about enough. Talking about social emotional learning gives kids and young adults the venue to talk about their feelings, thoughts, and needs. It should be healthy to talk about mental health.
Teaches study skills and habits. Time management, organization, and planning are important skills that need to be developed over time. It’s easy to assume that all learners have these skills automatically, but it’s often not the case. Best of all, these are skills that can be easily taught in harmony with academic curriculum, whether it is math, reading, music, science, or anything else.
Encourages empathy. Empathy is one of the most foundational social skills, and sometimes it is overlooked. Quite often, kids and young adults need to be explicitly taught how to think about the feelings and thoughts of others. Once they can do this, students are much more effective at maintaining relationships, resolving conflicts with peers, and showing kindness to others.
Teaches teamwork and collaboration. In order to be success now and in the future, kids need to learn how to work well with others. Social emotional learning skills help students learn how to work collaboratively with partners and small groups. That includes working with people who aren’t your friends, problem-solving through disagreements, being a good team player, and more. Of course, these are all skills that are critical to success in the classroom, too.
Improves academic performance. Sometimes educators think of SEL skills as completely separated from academics, but that’s actually not true. A number of social-emotional skills actually encourage and allow students to perform better academically. Just a few of those skills include goal setting, planning, staying organized, managing time, problem-solving, cooperating, working in groups, and much more.
Improves self-regulation skills. Being able to managing our own thoughts, feelings, words, and actions is paramount to social and personal success. SEL can help learners understand self-regulation so they can learn to manage their own behaviors in positive ways.
Teaches responsible decision-making. Without a doubt, decision-making is a critical life skill. Learners need to know how to understand choices, think about consequences, consider how choices impact them and others, and ultimately make a positive choice they are proud of. These skills don’t come easily, though! So often, learners have to make tough decisions without “easy” solutions or answers for them. This is why practice in this area is so important, and can truly pay off in the end.
Teaches disagreeing respectfully. Kids and young adults need to learn how to disagree respectfully as a critical social skill. This is an ability they will use in the classroom when working with peers, with friends outside the school walls, online, and more.
Increases personal self-awareness. It is important for learners to have a strong understanding of their own individual strengths and challenges. Self-awareness is having a clear and accurate view of oneself. When students understand themselves, they are better equipped to have a clear vision for the future and make better choices to reach those dreams.
Encourages perseverance and resilience. While these skills are similar, they are different enough to highlight and discuss. Perseverance is the ability to push through challenges, while resilience is being able to get back up after a failure or defeat. Both skills are critical for student success in and outside the classroom.
Improves confidence. All kids should feel good about themselves and who they are as individuals. In many ways, helping kids and young adults to feel more confident can help them become the best versions of themselves.
Improves relationship skills. We all want our learners to have better relationship skills. That includes understanding healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, developing skills to be a good friend, maintaining relationships, conflict resolution, repairing relationships, and more. Not only does it benefit the students in your classroom to get along with each other, but these are also life skills for the future.
Improves attendance. Some research has indicated that kids and young adults in SEL programs actually have improved attendance. This just makes sense; If kids feel more positive about school and have the skills to succeed, they are more likely to be prepared to come each day.
Teaches coping skills. All kids and young adults experience emotional distress from time to time. Managing emotions can be tough, especially if learners don’t have the tools to do it effectively. An important component in social emotional learning programs is teaching kids and young adults how to managing those feelings and cope with them in the best ways.
Creates a feeling of community. A positive school community is critical to help all learners succeed. By building relationships and talking about topics that really matter to kids, they are more likely to bond with each other and educators in the room. This creates a strong sense of community, acceptance, and support.
If you want more strategies for integrating social emotional learning in the classroom, check out this list of over 100 free SEL resources and ideas!