Guiding Principles for Social-Emotional Learning at Schools

Kanchan Joshi

Principal, Cygnus World School, Vadodra, Gujarat

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning (SEL) as:

“ ... the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

This is what all schools need to keep in mind while educating a child holistically. The emotional health of a child is a priority in today’s world. If SEL is taken and adopted as the mission of a school, a multi-faceted approach will integrate the curriculum and culture of the school. This would result in multiple benefits such as:

  • Promotes a favourable school climate.
  • Improves result leading to academic success.
  • Enhances problem-solving and communication skills and management of emotions.

Today, students in schools are from different social-economic backgrounds and cultures. Integrating them into schools can be a significant challenge. In children, the abilities to manage emotions, empathise with others and make well-thought-out decisions can be achieved with SEL in the curriculum. The five core competencies of SEL as per the CASEL framework are:

  • Self-awareness: The capacity to reflect on one’s own feelings, values, and behaviour.
  • Social awareness: The ability to view situations from another perspective, respect the social and cultural norms of others, and celebrate diversity.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to initiate and sustain positive connections with peers, teachers, families, and other groups.
  • Self-management: The set of skills that includes self-motivation, goal-setting, personal organisation, self-discipline, impulse control, and the use of strategies for coping with stress.
  • Responsible decision-making: The ability to make choices that consider the well-being of oneself and others.

These competencies impact not only the student and the classroom environment but also schools, homes, and communities. They foster a climate that is inviting, participatory and compassionate for learners. Since these skills are transferable, they help students accommodate different perspectives and work towards better solutions for upcoming challenges.

Social-emotional learning should not be relegated to a distinct unit or stand-alone curriculum. Let’s see how to infuse it throughout the day.

Create a warm classroom culture

Students learn best in their comfort zone. When they feel safe, cared for and respected, they do precisely what you want them to do. Provide children with leadership opportunities and show that you trust them. Plan activities where you can allow them to make their own decisions. Sometimes give them time-bound activities which are open-ended so that they spend their time pursuing their interests.

Identify opportunities

Social and emotional skills come up all the time — at recess, in group work, and in all academic and co-scholastic classes. Identify opportunities to practice the skills with your students. As teachers, we should utilise all opportunities to develop these skills amongst students. When conflicts arise on the playground, the teacher can talk to the students about the importance of listening and collaboration.

On a regular basis, teachers can encourage students to ask questions when they do not understand something, to be unafraid to make mistakes, to explain their thinking, to listen to how other people think about a problem, and to be open to suggestions.

Focus on interpersonal relationships

Meaningful relationships — both between students and adults and between students and other students — help improve attitudes and achievement. Teachers can plan as many group activities as possible so as to facilitate the formation of long-term relationships. Assigning mentors to students works wonders both ways. The child who is the mentor develops leadership skills and a sense of responsibility. The one who is mentored develops all the required skills in a positive company.

Commit to equity

Provide equal opportunities for all students to build SEL skills. One simple idea is to display the work of each child on the wall of the class and not only the best one. This gives a sense of accomplishment to each and every child. In the process, each child learns to evaluate their work in comparison to others on their own, without the fear of being judged or labelled.

Make class rules and practice them daily

Set classroom norms in collaboration with students. Once rules are framed, develop procedures to follow them and then rehearse the same. Ensure every day that everyone is following the rules. In case a child misbehaves, remind him/her about the rule and state that it is not the right choice rather than calling him/her a bad child. Have regular meetings about how those norms are working. Help students resolve conflict with one another; there is much more to be learned from conflict resolution than a suspension.

Broaden the definition of student success

Student success in your classroom should not be restricted only to test scores. Children need to be counselled that these are not the only things that matter.

Focus on positives rather than negatives

Teachers need to recognise and celebrate when students are persistent in facing challenges, when they are caring for their peers, and when they are good listeners. These skills should be highly appreciated in public so that others learn from the same. Actions should be appreciated so that others can emulate the same.

By emphasising on social-emotional development, students have a clearer idea of what to work towards and why it is crucial, enabling their development into well-rounded, civic-minded adults.

Kanchan Joshi

Principal, Cygnus World School, Vadodra, Gujarat