‘Social-emotional learning’ (SEL) is the process of developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes to create a healthy identity. Key elements include developing self-control and awareness, strong empathy and interpersonal skills, and the ability to form and maintain supportive relationships. The concept of SEL was propelled into the popular culture in 1995 with a book by New York Times science reporter Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter.
People with strong social-emotional skills are at an advantageous state of being able to cope well with everyday challenges and benefit academically, professionally and socially. The development of strong social emotional skills also helps with emotion management, effective problem-solving and self-discipline. This has positive impacts on mental health.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s CASEL 5 is a dominant framework addressing five competencies of social and emotional learning. The five broad and interrelated areas of competence are:
self-awareness: the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts and values and how they influence behaviour across contexts.
self-management: the ability to manage your emotions, thoughts and behaviours in different contexts to achieve goals.
social awareness: the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds, cultures and contexts.
relationship skills: the ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships.
responsible decision-making: the ability to make constructive and caring choices about personal behavioural and social interactions.
The CASEL 5 can be taught and applied at various developmental stages from childhood to adulthood and across diverse cultural contexts. But how can you practice and cultivate social-emotional skills in everyday life? In any learning, work or social situation, behaviours that can help you to improve your social emotional learning skills include:
Learning to check in with others – ask “how are you feeling?”
Listening to others with an open mind
Working with others collaboratively in groups
Being kind, showing understanding and empathy
Practicing roleplay, putting yourselves in others’ shoes
Using positive framing of thoughts and expression such as ‘mistakes are part of learning’ instead of ‘I failed’.
SEL helps us to have a more positive attitude toward ourselves, towards others, and our tasks at hand. Ultimately it leads to improved confidence and enhanced self-efficacy. Strong social-emotional intelligence is also linked to academic success and can help to improve academic performance. From a behavioural perspective, SEL helps to reduce challenging behaviour, meaning calmer children who are less disruptive in school. It also promotes resilience, by helping to reduce emotional distress.
In summary, SEL is vital and an important life skill, one requiring a strong element of self-reflection. It is not just for children or students; it can help people of all ages to improve themselves and is well worth the time and investment.