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How to improve social and emotional learning in your class

How to improve social and emotional learning in your class

3 min read
  • The science of learning

Social and emotional abilities are important life skills. These life skills are critical to student development; and as school is where students spend most of their time, it is worth considering if this is the best environment for them to learn them. So, what exactly is social and emotional learning? And how can you help your students reap its benefits?

What is social and emotional learning?

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process of developing self-awareness, self-control and other interpersonal skills. 95% of teachers who completed a national survey believe that SEL skills can be taught and can benefit students from all backgrounds. Evidence would suggest they are right, as research has shown that students who participated in a SEL program demonstrated improved attitudes, behaviour, and academic performance. When compared to their peers in the control group, students in the SEL program showed an 11-percentile-point gain in test-scores.

Developing social and emotional skills early on in a student’s school career has been shown to increase their chances of graduating secondary school, going on to university and eventually finding employment.

How to develop social and emotional learning

This is often broken down into five categories:

  • Self-awareness – This involves recognising your emotions and the behaviours that result from them.
  • Self-management – This is the ability to regulate your feelings, from controlling anger to being able to motivate yourself.
  • Social awareness – Empathising with others and being willing to understand other people’s experiences.
  • Relationship skills – Creating and maintaining healthy relationships that involve active listening and effective communication.
  • Responsible decision-making – Being able to make positive choices that further your well-being and the well-being of others.

The combination of all five skills allows students to become well-rounded learners whilst also giving them the social and emotional teachings they need to succeed both inside the school environment and outside.

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How to bring social and emotional learning to your students

Students sit in a classroom for more than 30 hours a week. It is where they experience most of their social interactions and find opportunities for personal growth. It is no secret that schools and teachers provide way more than just academic learning and have been doing so for decades. However, implementing SEL programs can provide consistent additional benefits to students in many ways.

Research shows that SEL programs can promote academic achievement and positive social behaviour, whilst also reducing conduct problems and emotional distress. There are many programs available for schools that will help the development of the five skills mentioned above. The decision of which program to choose is entirely dependent on the type of school, student ages and school budget, but you can use the Education Endowment Foundation’s extensive guide to SEL programs for more clarity. In it, they conclude that these approaches involving social and emotional learning are effective in both primary and secondary schools. Their report also further discusses research that shows positive links between SEL programs and academic outcomes.  

Is a social and emotional programme worth it?

recent study shows that developing SEL skills earlier on in a student’s school life can have long-term benefits on their reading skills and vocabulary. This continues to demonstrate how social and emotional learning programmes can not only support the development of students’ interpersonal skills but also improve their academic outcomes.

Although they can be costly, the benefits are great. In fact, researchers at Columbia University found that for every dollar a school spends on SEL programs, it sees an eleven dollar return on its investment which includes long-term benefits to students, schools and the community.

Final thoughts

Effective problem-solving, self-discipline, feeling empathy and maintaining positive relationships are just a few benefits that result from social and emotional learning. To gain these positive effects, as demonstrated through a vast amount of research, one must implement these teachings early on in a student’s school life.

Start the conversation in your school about the necessity of SEL programs. Bringing attention to its importance is the first step to bringing it into your school environment and developing independent learners.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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