In the Classroom: Social-Emotional Learning & Re-openings

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs, which have been written into some school curricula over the past two years, are now more important as students cope with feelings regarding the coronavirus and returning to a full learning schedule. App-based platform Moshi is even offering its services free of charge.

To make a useful comparison, consider the idea of emotional intelligence (EI). If you’ve seen this term before, it may have been on a paperback guide at the airport newsstand– EI was popularized quite a bit by organizational communication writers. EI is the ability to manage one’s own emotions and adapt to those of others. EI was once said to be as important as IQ in an individual’s determinants of success. Programs to help improve one’s EI are easily accessible.

SEL is also about emotion management, among other things. SEL is a tool used by educators, whereas EI learning would be a tool used by individuals (or maybe the Human Resources department). SEL is not the same as EI, since SEL is specifically aimed at educators and school systems. SEL is also referred to as “socio-emotional learning” or “social-emotional literacy.”

Although there are various names and definitions of SEL, they involve the same fundamental ideas. The New Jersey Department of Education calls it “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a big player in the direction of SEL curricula. CASEL both conducts and commissions research, partners with school districts, and even informs state and federal legislation. CASEL is also involved in a network of trusted figures, like superintendents and public officials, who have determined the main competencies in SEL.

There are five main competencies: self- and social-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, and relationship skills.

According to Dr. Azizi Seixas, an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Population Health and Psychiatry at NYU Langone, “[SEL] skills are a child’s vehicle to explore their personality and the world in a safe way.”

Bills which implement SEL have passed in a handful of states (2018-2020): Texas, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Washington, Mississippi, and New Hampshire. This legislation will help establish cultures of mental health that are free of stigma and may even have the potential to reduce/prevent violence or harm.

In addition requiring some mental health training in teacher certification programs, Texas House Bill (HB) 18 has also made fundamental changes to its definitions.

SEL is also more important now due to changes in society that stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic. The New York City and Los Angeles school districts are among the many US school districts planning a full return. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio “absolutely believes” that schools can open in three months, as vaccinations continue to rise and the city faces a hopeful recovery.

With some of the nation’s largest school districts returning to full in-person schedules this fall, students will need support to learn how to manage emotions of uncertainty or anxiety as they transition back.

Dr. Seixas adds: “As we all navigate the post-pandemic reality, helping kids build the fundamental skills of self-awareness, empathy, kindness, and decision-making has taken on even more importance.”

Moshi, a mindfulness and sleeping app designed for kids, is providing free access to one of its SEL programs for teachers. Their web program engages children through rich characters and stories and its audio format. The “Mindfulness in the Classroom” program also has 65 lesson plans, with over 300 teaching materials. These learning segments are appropriate for different grades. When the need arises, calming Moshi content can be accessed to relax minds and hearts in any classroom.

A few Moshi mindfulness lessons, which are free to educators claiming their free access.

Reassuringly, SEL programs and curricula have a solid foundation in research. A 2015 American Journal of Public Health study found that across their education, employment, mental health, and criminal activity, young adults’ socioemotional skills in kindergarten were closely related with their present outcome. Also, 213 school-based SEL programs from K-12 were analyzed in 2011, revealing that participants had an 11-percentile-point gain in academic achievement, and these are not the only findings which guide the construction of SEL curricula.

Educators surely must prepare to meet students’ emotional and mental needs this fall. SEL is a great way to do so!

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