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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?: Because It Helps Students Build Character

Helping students develop a sense of self will ultimately help them to better manage their emotions, communicate, and resolve conflicts nonviolently.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

It's not enough to simply fill students' brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That's where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.

Although family, community, and society are significant factors in fostering emotional intelligence and character development, educators must create a safe, supportive learning environment and integrate SEL into the curriculum.

Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. Students who are encouraged to practice the Golden Rule find it easier to thrive in educational environments and in the wider world.

In SEL, educators (and other students) coach children in conflict resolution and model how to negotiate, how to discuss differences in opinion without resorting to personal attacks, and how to accept others when their attitudes, beliefs, and values differ from one's own. SEL strives to educate children about the effects of harassment and bullying based on social standing, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.

Teachers must lay the groundwork for successful SEL by establishing an environment of trust and respect in the classroom. Empathy is key. Before children can be expected to unite to achieve academic goals, they must be taught how to work together, and so it provides them with strategies and tools for cooperative learning.

Such learning, successfully incorporated into project learning and other teaching styles, is easily integrated into all subject areas and can be effectively assessed with rigorous, sophisticated rubrics. It also contributes to a productive classroom environment where students feel they can learn without concern for their emotional welfare. Return to our Social and Emotional Learning page to learn more.

Social and Emotional Learning Overview

Comments (41)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Debbie Woo-Ming's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Social and Emotional Learning fits right in with Social Skills. The population that I teach is on the Autism Spectrum. In our school, academics are not always the primary focus. Our main concern is to ready our students for the world and its challenges. Our students focus on self-regulating their behavior. They learn how to cope with anger, anxiety, and their sensory issues. They learn about conflict resolution, how to have conversations, ways to show respect others, and how to be themselves. Social and Emotional Learning is truly an important part of our curriculum. This article was a great overview.

M.R.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with you that elementary students would greatly benefit from an SEL program. I teach junior high students, and, often, the damage is done by the time they reach my classroom. They have no conflict resolution skills, and they think I am crazy when I tell them that screaming at each other is not going to solve their problem. Reaching them at an earlier age would at least introduce them to the concept of conflict resolution. The longer we wait to reach them, the less successful we will be. A training program for teachers would be something I would welcome. It would be especially effective if entire districts could train with the same program. That way we could all be consistent when we are trying to help our students problem solve.

Dana Kornely's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a special education teacher I not only deal with academic difficulties, but social and emotional ones as well. I feel that as an upper grade elementary teacher my students would greatly benefit from the SEL program. I think it will help students learn how to deal with anger, resolve peer conflict, and show respect toward others. These are situations that I deal with on a weekly basis with my 4-6 grade students. My students do not know how to solve their own problems with their peers, because they have never been taught. They come to the teachers to have the situations resolved. I truly feel that the social and emotional learning program would benefit students in the upper elementary and continue the program through junior high. This will also help with students confidence within their academic as well. I would like to see this type of program start in the lower elementary such as grade 4 and continue throughout their academic schooling. This type of program will also help get students ready for the outside world and into a job.

Dana Kornely's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

K.G. I agree with you about a child's trust and respect of his teachers before they will listen to their teacher. I also agree that we spend a great deal of classroom instruction time resolving student conflicts. If we can start the student with this SEL program in about 4th or 5th grade then we can focus more on their academics. We need to start training students to solve their own problems and not always rely on an adult. Thank your for your insite into this program. After reading your posting I know now that I want to start this type of program within my school district.

Brian Christy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The idea of a SEL program is outstanding! Too many teachers (one teacher is too many, if you ask me) feel that teaching social and emotional skills is the parents' job. That statement is as unfair as stating that teaching a child to read falls solely on the shoulders of a child's classroom teacher. We have countless opportunities throughout the day to teach our students how to be a quality member of society. Teachers need to know how to use these experiences to mold students into people who know how to resolve their problems and how to treat others properly. The goal of any classroom experience is to learn to do things that you couldn't do before. This should include things such as learning how to resolve problems without running to an adult and learning how to treat others with respect. These skills are too often left to be taught by a school's social worker in a few brief sessions. A program that would train teachers to integrate SEL into the classroom and also provide specific lessons on these skills would be hugely beneficial. Schools and school districts would be wise to invest in a training program that would benefit all involved.

Brian Christy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not agree more that students in elementary schools would be hugely impacted by an SEL program. You mentioned that too much instructional time is wasted resolving conflicts. I know this feeling. What's worse, half of these conflicts happen outside of the classroom and are then carried over into instructional time. If I had a nickel for every time a student of mine came in from recess and compalined about what happened I would be very wealthy! Even if a student doesn't waste instructional time by discussing a problem with me, if a student is upset by something that happened and the situation has yet to be resolved, that student is highly likely to tune out my lesson. My colleagues and myself use a crisis/complaint form that allows students to write down a problem that they might have so that we can deal with it later, during a time that is less interruptive. While this avoids the instant discussions after recess and during lessons, it does not solve the problem of students being distracted by unresolved conflicts. The only remedy is for students to be taught how to problem solve on their own. An SEL program would help with conflict resolution skills and also work on skills to avoid conflict altogether. These skills would make any classroom a much more productive place.

Suzanne Steelman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you, keep up your quest- monies should be out there to help funding. May have to go out of the box & seek on training funds ect., from organizations not yet into this delema. Kelloge,Kraft etc.

As always,

Kidzilla

Kelly McGonigle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in my third year of teaching 6th grade math in Georgia and am currently working on my masters degree. My husband also teaches at the same school in a 6th grade collab math class. Our school is very over-populated with 53 trailer currently on site, a very diverse student body containing a very large number of students with disabilities. Needless to say, we have many factors that lead to social and emotional conflicts and difficulties that really need to be examined and addressed. In doing research for one of his classes, my husband came across a wonderful program that addresses the social/emotional intelligences that researchers, counselors, administrators and teachers are praising with great exuberance.

While there are many programs our there, one powerful program is called Developmental Designs. Details can be found on the website, OriginsOnline.org Many educators have reported astounding improvements, not only in behavior, citizenship, and community, but also in academics! When student are taught 'how to behave,' how to be respectful, and how to deal with negative situations and emotions, they become more competent and confident in all areas of their lives. I have just begun reading about the subject, but I am excited about finding ways to implement such a program!

Kelly McGonigle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in my third year of teaching 6th grade math in Georgia and am currently working on my masters degree. My husband also teaches at the same school in a 6th grade collab math class. Our school is very over-populated with 53 trailer currently on site, a very diverse student body containing a very large number of students with disabilities. Needless to say, we have many factors that lead to social and emotional conflicts and difficulties that really need to be examined and addressed. In doing research for one of his classes, my husband came across a wonderful program that addresses the social/emotional intelligences that researchers, counselors, administrators and teachers are praising with great exuberance. While there are many programs our there, one powerful program is called Developmental Designs. Details can be found on the website, www.originsonline.org. Many educators have reported astounding improvements, not only in behavior, citizenship, and community, but also in academics! When student are taught 'how to behave,' how to be respectful, and how to deal with negative situations and emotions, they become more competent and confident in all areas of their lives. I have just begun reading about the subject, but I am excited about finding ways to implement such a program!

CTaylor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a elementary school counselor, I get frustrated by principals who think that SEL is my sole responsibility instead of something the teachers could accomplish through everyday interactions and integrated lesson plans. I am an itinerant teacher along with PE, Art and Music so my students learn & "practice" conflict resolution skills, how to deal with teasing,how to make friends, etc. once a week for 30-45 minutes. I am put into a schedule to give teachers their much needed break and planning period however, since they're not in the classroom when I am teaching, they cannot reinforce or encourage the skills I am teaching. This makes my lesson pointless. We don't teach math once a week without revisiting it often, why would we neglect the important stuff of how to get along with others????

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