Social-emotional learning: Beyond traditional curricula

In recent years, the focus in schools has been on meeting academic standards. As such, much of the responsibility for teaching students social-emotional skills has fallen on parents and other caregivers. However, a new area of teaching is emerging: social-emotional learning (SEL). This type of education helps children and teens build their emotional strength and develop the social skills needed for success in life. SEL involves teaching students about their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. The goal is to make them aware of their feelings and how they influence themselves and others. SEL can also help them form better relationships with others by strengthening their communication skills, problem-solving abilities, empathy, resilience, and self-awareness.

Recent research has shown the development of children’s social and emotional skills is a critical foundation for future success in school and life. Some of the most important social-emotional skills include coping with stress, self-awareness, relationship building, empathy, peer Interactions, and forgiveness. To impart these skills, educators need to familiarise students with them and explain what they are. 

Expanding SEL curricula across the US

In recent years, the US has witnessed an expansion in the education sector, with more states working towards making SEL a critical component in their school curricula. In the US state of Virginia, the 2020 Virginia General Assembly passed a House bill requiring the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to establish a uniform definition of social-emotional learning. It also had to develop guidance standards for social-emotional learning for public school students of all age levels. The VDOE created a cross-departmental team to craft a state SEL implementation plan. The department also established a Social Emotional Learning Advisory Committee to support the development of these SEL standards, which included various stakeholders like educators, community leaders, and parents.

Superintendent of public instruction at the VDOE Dr James F. Lane noted, “Virginia is redesigning our vision for the education of its students by providing equity within a safe and healthy learning environment.” When constructing the state’s vision and definition of SEL, the team worked with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to highlight the VDOE’s main priorities to be considered in the plan. Additionally, the team focused on the VDOE’s existing initiatives within the state that supported this vision. 

Similarly, in the US state of Connecticut, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) partnered with Aperture Education, a company specialising in SEL solutions. In the second half of 2021, the state announced its first round of 33 school districts that will receive a statewide social-emotional learning assessment system from Aperture Education. The company will give districts its research-driven SEL assessments as well as the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) System and the DESSA-mini. The assessment tools will help educators and schools measure students’ overall social and emotional competence and identify their strengths and weaknesses to better support them. 

Global initiatives aim to evolve SEL on a worldwide scale

The global goal of education is equality and opportunity for everyone, no matter their background, race, or socioeconomic status. Global initiatives have made great strides in making SEL more available to all students, ensuring a better future for students around the world. UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace (MGIEP) launched their new report, Rethinking Learning: A Review for Social Emotional Learning [SEL] for Education Systems. To support the launch, the institute created a short video featuring educational leaders and students from six countries. The video includes Sri Lanka’s Minister, H. E. Dullas Alahapperuma, highlighting his country’s commitment to “mainstreaming SEL” in its schools to foster “empathy, compassion and a sense of solidarity with humanity” and encourage “sustainable development”. 

It also featured neuroscientist, professor, and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin in the US Richard Davidson, who stated SEL is “critically important… timely… and an urgent public health need [amid] rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide in young people. The pressures on them are increasing with each passing year”. Alongside educational leaders around the world, MGIEP’s director, Anantha K. Duraiappah, made an appearance in the video to say SEL is vital to “human flourishing… a necessary condition for building peaceful and sustainable societies across the world”.

Additionally, at the Policy Forum at the 2019 Transforming Education Conference for Humanity (TECH), MGIEP developed the formation of a Group of Governments and Other Relevant Stakeholders for Social-Emotional and Digital Learning. It officially launched as The Global Collective for SEL and Digital Learning in 2020. The alliance was developed to build awareness of SEL and digital learning in a bid to support the achievement of UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which focuses on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and learning opportunities for all. 

The alliance currently has various governmental members from all over the world, including ​​Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan; the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Ministry of Education; Kyrgyz Republic’s Ministry of Education and Science; the Maldives’ Ministry of Education, Maldives; Quebec Government Office in India, Canada; South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training; and Sri Lanka’s National Institute of Education. In addition to its governmental members, the alliance also has 30 non-governmental members in North America, South America, and Asia.

Digital tools to support the development of SEL 

As more schools return to in-person learning, educators face the challenge of meeting students’ specific needs. While some adjust seamlessly and rebuild relationships with their students, others with larger classrooms and less one-on-one time may struggle in this area. Using ed-tech to support social-emotional learning fosters an environment where students are more active stakeholders in their own learning. Luckily, educators have a variety of activities and tools available to help students become more socially and emotionally competent. 

Gale, a division of ed-tech company Cengage Group, launched a new digital platform for SEL and career readiness called Gale Presents: Imago. The platform, which is a partnership between Gale and California-based multimedia content provider IMAGO, provides schools and educators with video-based SEL content to integrate into their curricula. The multimedia content is designed to help students between years 6 and 13 improve their emotional intelligence in the classroom. The digital lessons focus on three main aspects: SEL, career readiness, and soft skills. In addition to the video-based content, the platform provides study guides and a facilitator guide with activities for educators and instructors.

Similarly, ed-tech platform Shmoop recently released a new tool for students called Heartbeat, based on the Learner Variability Project’s (LVP) whole learner framework. Educators who used the platform initially said they needed help understanding and supporting their students better. Heartbeat provides prompts to help students understand, reflect on, and explore factors that impact their wellbeing, such as sleep or physical activity, as well as SEL components like social support and motivation. 

The goal of social-emotional learning is to give students the skills they need to be happy, healthy, and successful. These are often overlooked in schools, although they’re just as important as maths or science. Teaching these skills in classrooms can help students be more effective communicators and more responsible citizens. SEL has been recognised as an important part of education by many countries, including the US, Sri Lanka, Japan, and India, who are all working to introduce new national standards for social-emotional education into their curricula. This educational approach has the potential to benefit every student in their future throughout their lives – even during difficult times like bullying or trauma when students most need support from others.