There are many different ways students experience stress in schools, from standardized or high stakes testing to bullying. In order to better equip students with the emotional skills they will need while they are in school, once they leave school and enter the workforce. Many schools are adopting programs to help support Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
The definition of Social-Emotional Learning or SEL is as follows:
"(SEL) is 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."
In education, SEL has become the way schools and districts have coordinated activities and programs in character education, violence prevention, anti-bullying, drug prevention, and school discipline. Under this organizational umbrella, the primary goals of SEL are to reduce these problems enhancing the school climate and improve students' academic performance.
Five Competencies for Social-Emotional Learning
Research shows that in order for students to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills described in SEL, students need to be competent, or have abilities, in five areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision making.
The following criteria for these skills could serve as an inventory for students to self-evaluate as well. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines these areas of ability as:
- Self-awareness: This is the student's ability to accurately recognize emotions and thoughts and the influence of emotions and thoughts on behavior. Self-awareness means that a student can accurately assess his or her own strengths as well as limitations. Students who are self-aware possess a sense of confidence and optimism.
- Self-management: This is the ability of a student to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. The ability to self-manage includes how well the student manages stress, controls impulses, and motivates himself or herself - the student who can self-manage, set and work toward achieving personal and academic goals.
- Social awareness: This is the ability for a student to use "another lens" or another person's point of view. Students who are socially aware can empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures. These students can understand diverse social and ethical norms for behavior. Students who are socially aware can recognize and know where to find family, school, and community resources and supports.
- Relationship skills: This is the ability for a student to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. Students who have strong relationship skills, know how to actively listen and can communicate clearly. These students are cooperative while resisting inappropriate social pressure and have the ability to negotiate conflict constructively. Students with strong relationship skills can seek and offer help when needed.
- Responsible decision making: This is a student's ability to make constructive and respectful choices about his or her own personal behavior and social interactions. These choices are based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. They respect the realistic evaluations of situations. Students who exhibit responsible decision making respect the consequences of various actions, the well-being of themselves, and the well-being of others.
The research shows that these competencies are taught most effectively "within caring, supportive, and well-managed learning environments."
Incorporating social-emotional learning programs (SEL) in the school curriculum is considerably different than offering programs for math and reading test achievement. The goal of SEL programs is to develop students to be healthy, safe, engaged, challenged, and supported beyond school, well into college or career. The consequence, however, of good SEL programming, is that the research shows that it results in a general improvement in academic achievement.
Finally, the students who participate in social-emotional learning programs offered through schools learn to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses in dealing with stress. Knowing individual strengths or weaknesses can help students develop the social-emotional skills they need to be successful in college and/or career.