Social and Emotional Learning: Can Goodness be Taught?

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In a world full of competition and the hard choices we make every day, only a few will say that altruism is an integral part of every human’s life. Putting others above self-interest is quite difficult to achieve, and perhaps unrealistic to expect. But the belief still has a chance, if we know that there is something called “Social and Emotional Learning”.

Let’s take an example of a little girl in a primary school. During class her teacher notices that she is sad. He approaches her and asks if there are any problems and says that he wants to know why she is sad. The girl replies that she has had an argument with her best friend, and she is not sure whether she will sit alone or with her friend for the lunch break. Instead of continuing with the lesson and neglecting her problem, he talks to her and together they come up with a few tactics that should help her to reconcile with her friend.

These tactics are based on the principles of Social and Emotional Learning. In this situation, the teacher could just ignore the outward indicators of the girl’s sorrow and continue with the class without paying attention to her state of mind. But he is aware of the fact that her attention is certainly not directed at the lesson, but she is deep in thought and she is focused on a problem that makes her feel uncomfortable and sad. In the end, the girl manages to reconcile with her friend, and the problem is solved.

The same girl is now grown, and she is a student. Once again, she finds herself in the same situation she was in many years before, she is fighting with her best friend. But this time she knows how to solve the situation in the best possible way. The experience she had when she was younger and the process she went through instilled in her some positive human traits that are now coming to the fore and will follow her throughout her entire life.

What is in fact SEL?

Through that simple example, we can easily explain what in fact SEL is. It is a process of acquiring knowledge, behavior and skills for children and adults. In the process, they learn how to care for others, learn how to deal with emotions, to make important decisions, and to establish positive relationships with people. SEL’s target is not only to work on the social and emotional development of the child but also to help in the development of motivation, health, and academic learning. For SEL to work, it is necessary to combine a number of factors such as the support of the family, school and community. In this environment the child will feel important and respected, and there will be a desire to learn.

The five pillars that constitute SEL are:

Self-awareness – work on self-esteem and the identification and acceptance of one’s emotions, the identification of those things that we do well, and understanding of our own interests

Self-management – work on the things that help us to find inner peace, to get rid of stress, to express emotions in the right way, to overcome obstacles, set academic goals and have a plan to achieve them

Social awareness – acceptance of others as they are, empathy, accepting that we are all different, be aware of the fact that at the same time we all have many similarities

Relationship skills – interpersonal conflict resolution, to feel free to request help when needed, the maintenance of healthy relationships that will be based on positive factors

Responsible decision-making – making decisions that are not rushed, but are based on a number of factors that are taken into consideration, given evaluation and reflection, and awareness of the consequences if you make the wrong decision

SEL has a great influence in the later life of every child. This influence is especially seen in higher education, and the period of life when a kid becomes a student. So, here are the key factors in which SEL helps:

Developing a love for school

Instead of being “thrown” in the early years of schooling in front of heavy subjects such as math and history, children first learn to love school and acquire good work habits. Attention is paid to the emotional side.

Drop in suicide rates

Teenagers as a group are, in many cases, struggling with this problem. The fight against depression and suicidal thoughts is carried out through SEL. The individual who learns to overcome fears at an early age will know how to deal with the challenges of the future, especially at puberty.

Violence in schools and bullying

One of the biggest problems of our generation is bullying and violence in schools. Fighting against this is a priority. Work on mastering and channeling anger in people will help in future conflicts to prevent an escalation of violence. Through the fight against bullying there is a promotion of things like mutual acceptance of differences, acceptance of the term ”otherness” and work on coexistence.

Mental health

The individual’s state of mind must always remain healthy. SEL contributes by minimizing the probability of mental illness and inhibiting the further development of existing ones.

A healthy environment for the development of the personality

In a supportive environment there is a useful tendency for people to work on themselves, increasing the odds that the personality will develop in a good direction. Environment, family, friends – all of them contribute to the development of personality. Social groups and the social environment need to be positive ones from an early age so you can expect positivity later on, through the teenaged period and the phases that follow. 

In the last twenty years in the United States of America, many people have become advocates of SEL. One of them is Roger P. Weissberg, who is a Professor of Psychology and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chief Knowledge Officer of the CASEL (the international organization that promotes SEL), and NoVo Foundation Endowed Chair in SEL. Professor Weissberg has said: ‘’SEL enhances academic performance as well as career and life readiness.’’

Also, when he was asked about introducing SEL in higher education and how students benefit from it, he said: ‘’Increasingly, universities are introducing programs that help students adjust to and thrive academically and with their relationships.”

Weissberg then added: “ There are lots of exciting developments internationally – It will help to establish SEL learning standards and link these to curriculum and instruction, professional development, and formative assessments.”

On the topic of SEL, Maurice J. Elias, who is a professor of Psychology at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, has said: “SEL is a part of everything that we do. It refers to the qualities within us that allow us to recognize emotions in ourselves and others, regulate our emotions, show empathy, work with others in groups, set goals and plans, and engage in ethical and responsible problem solving. These are part of higher education, preschool education, and everything in between. Throughout CASEL we have learned a great deal about how to promote SEL skills in others. I have worked with over 500 schools in the US and around the world, and I have seen the transformative power of a focus on SEL. In Plainfield, NJ, over an 8 year period of time, introducing SEL transformed an entire school system and a community. SEL prepares people for the tests of life, not just a life of tests.”

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