social emotional learning

Here at Committee for Children, we believe teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) is as important as teaching math or language arts. But what is SEL, exactly?

Social-emotional learning is recognizing and managing emotions, having empathy for others, maintaining cooperative relationships, and making responsible decisions. Most schools have been teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) for years. But now the term is working its way into the public consciousness—and even business leaders are acknowledging the importance of social-emotional learning in the workplace. However, there are some broad (and, in some cases, erroneous) definitions out there.

What SEL Is

  • Recognizing emotions in oneself and others
  • Managing strong emotions
  • Having empathy for others
  • Controlling impulses
  • Communicating clearly and assertively
  • Maintaining cooperative relationships
  • Making responsible decisions
  • Solving problems effectively

What SEL Isn’t

  • Kids sitting around in circles singing songs
  • Parenting your kids for you
  • Suggesting you’re not doing a good enough job as a parent
  • Suggesting that today’s generation of kids is somehow broken
  • Psychotherapy
  • Taught at the expense of core academic subjects such as math, science, and literacy

How SEL Is Taught in Classrooms

Children learn SEL in a variety of ways, including the behavior they see modeled by the adults in their lives. But SEL can also be taught explicitly in the classroom, in much the same way math or reading is taught:

  • The teacher explains a concept with words, pictures, video, and/or audio
  • Students practice the concept with skill practice, group discussion, individual writing, or partner work
  • The teacher continues reinforcing the concept throughout the week
  • The teacher sends information home for students to work on with parents
  • The teacher checks for understanding
  • The teacher re-teaches where necessary

 Think of It This Way

When second-grade teachers work with their students to practice reading, no one assumes it’s because the students’ parents aren’t reading with them at home. They may or may not be; the point is we all agree reading is a skill essential to kids’ success and that they need a lot of practice, regardless of the setting.

SEL and Workforce Readiness

More and more business leaders are listing social-emotional skills alongside technical savvy or subject-matter mastery in their key recruitment criteria. But how exactly does social-emotional learning (SEL) translate to the workplace?

  • Empathy can help you avoid staff attrition by staying in touch with what your employees are feeling; similarly, it can help you meet the needs of your customers.
  • Emotion management can help you deal with any conflict you may be having in your personal life so you can behave more calmly and professionally in your workplace.
  • Emotion recognition can help you understand when is or is not a good time to give your boss some bad news or pitch the latest product to a client.
  • Problem solving is an essential skill not only in the workplace but in life. The ability to face roadblocks calmly by thinking through the problem, brainstorming solutions, and trying them out is something any employer will value.
  • Impulse control is a key workplace skill, especially in our digital world. It’s all too easy to fire off an angry email immediately. Calming down and thinking carefully before pressing “send” can help avoid a crisis.
  • Communication isn’t just about using good grammar and spelling; it’s also about listening respectfully and focusing attention, and it’s essential to teamwork, client relations, and your relationships with your boss, employees, and coworkers.
  • Assertiveness (as opposed to passivity or aggression) goes a long way toward getting what you want or need without insulting or offending the other person.

With social-emotional learning, kids gain skills that will last a lifetime. Down the road, what they learn in the classroom will be key to making their career dreams become a reality. Social-emotional skills help deliver a professional employee with sought-after attributes. From solving problems on the job to communicating with the world, students gain skills that can help prepare them for the future. By teaching invaluable social-emotional skills today, we create lasting results for tomorrow.

Read our briefing paper and one page summary on “Why SEL and Employability Skills Should Be Prioritized in Education.”

How Social-Emotional Learning Helps Children Succeed in School, the Workplace, and Life

Download complete SEL E-book

SEL Voices

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that most parents and educators think SEL is a good idea. After all, it’s pretty easy to link good social skills to more peaceful classrooms. But does SEL have a place in business? Tech? The military? We gathered thought leaders, such as a director at Harvard Business School and a retired general of the U.S. Army—to name just two—and asked them what they think of SEL. Their answers may surprise you. We’ll be adding new voices soon, so check this space regularly to see who else thinks SEL is a great idea.

Roger P. Weissberg, PhD Chief Knowledge Officer, CASEL

Roger P. Weissberg, PhD
Chief Knowledge Officer, CASEL
Foreword: Social-Emotional Learning Is Essential for Our Nation's Schools

Alonda Williams Senior Director for Education, Microsoft

Alonda Williams
Senior Director for Education, Microsoft
SEL Helps Enrich the World Our Children Inhabit

Paul D. Eaton Major General, Retired United States Army

Paul D. Eaton
Major General, Retired, United States Army
Social-Emotional Learning Readies Children for Their Life Mission

Matt Segneri Director, Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) Harvard Business School

Matt Segneri
Director, Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI), Harvard Business School
Leaders with Social-Emotional Skills Are a Force for Global Good

Meria Joel Carstarphen Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools

Meria Joel Carstarphen
Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools
We Need to Educate Our Children's Hearts and Minds

Keeth Matheny Teacher Austin (Texas) Independent School District

R. Keeth Matheny
Teacher Austin (Texas) Independent School District
Teaching Social-Emotional Skills Has Made a Dramatic Difference in Students’ Lives

Andria Amador Assistant Director of Behavioral Health Services, Boston Public Schools

Andria Amador
Assistant Director of Behavioral Health Services, Boston Public Schools
Schools Should Be More Proactive and Preventive in Helping Students with Behavioral Issues

Reed Koch President, Board of Directors Committee for Children

Reed Koch
President, Board of Directors, Committee for Children
Why Companies Should Enhance and Enrich Their Employees’ Social-Emotional Skills

1Momm, T., Blickle, G., Liu, Y., Wihler, A., Kholin, M., & Menges, J. I. (2014). It pays to have an eye for emotions: Emotion recognition ability indirectly predicts annual income. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(1), 147–163.

2O’Boyle, E. H., Humphrey, R. H., Pollack, J. M., Hawver, T. H., & Story, P. A. (2010). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(5), 788–818.

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