Learning the Social, Emotional Language of SEL
Whether you believe in the concept of social and emotional learning or not, chances are that most of us have been told or have now learned the mantra, “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is critical for all K-12 students” or some variation thereof.
Many school districts now have SEL resources designed to directly reach students at key developmental stages in order to identify the building blocks of social and emotional skills. For example, SEL can improve academic achievement by creating less anxiety and depression as children transition from grades K-12, a role that can lead to lower student retention and truancy rates, reduced special education and child welfare costs, and more.
But what do we mean when we use the word “social” or “emotional” in relation to SEL? And what can we expect our students to do when they get out of school? These are questions that have plagued the SEL community for years, not just because of the way in which the phrase is misused by a wide variety of audiences, but also because of the creation of social and emotional learning as an umbrella term for a wide range of non-specific learning domains.
Often the term “SEL” is confused with, or positioned in opposition to, clinical mental health services, such as school counseling and mental health services. When considering the use of SEL within the school setting, we need to remember that it is not a replacement for mental health services but rather a complement. What we mean when we refer to “SEL” is connecting core skills with mental health services. What we mean when we refer to “SEL” is integrating intervention with community-based mental health services in the school setting. What we mean when we refer to “SEL” is strengthening social and emotional learning through a focus on learning and teaching these skills and techniques that foster positive relationships with others.
As educators, it is our job to provide the foundational skills that students need to learn and develop in order to function well in society and in the classroom. It is also our job to maximize the opportunity to socialize and develop in environments in which this learning is possible. This is a responsibility we can and should all take on together.
Social and emotional learning builds connections across our society that will strengthen not only critical skills but also provide opportunities for ethical decision-making. Within its own social and emotional components, education also connects with positive behavioral issues affecting our children. Mental health services and school administrators can play complementary roles by integrating into the classroom these important concepts.