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5 Ways to Support Social-Emotional Learning in the 21st Century Classroom

Editor's Note: A new meta-analysis of social-emotional learning (SEL) in the journal "Child Development", shows many positive benefits of including SEL in the classroom. Heather Ridge, dean of students at Boulder Universal school in Boulder, Colorado, shares ways to support SEL in your school. 

by guest blogger Heather Ridge

Students who feel better about themselves, their relationships, and their ability to constructively contribute to their community perform better academically and socially at school. 

Heather Ridge image.pngThis data, collected by a review of over 300 studies, would surprise no educator, anywhere. 

As global educators, we observe firsthand the qualitative impact that a sense of wellbeing and a positive mindset can have on educational outcomes. Fortunately, recent attention to the quantitative research on social-emotional learning (SEL) has provided many schools with a framework to help.

What is SEL?

Social-emotional learning is defined as the skills used to understand and manage our own emotions, and recognize and show empathy for the emotions of others. This concept arose in the mid-1990s from research around emotional intelligence. Current research has been investigating how these skills and processes can be developed in the classroom to help students establish positive relationships, set goals, and undertake responsible decision making.  

In their "Effective Social Emotional Learning Programs" guide, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), cited five core competencies that can be developed through classroom instruction and student engagement to support SEL. Below, we explore how these might be crosswalked into best practices for global competence.

1. Self Awareness

"Self awareness" is described as a student's ability to accurately recognize their own thoughts and emotions and understand how these might influence their behavior.

One of the core components of global learning is the opportunity to weigh perspectives. To do this, we ask students to recognize their own biases and worldviews and explore how those might influence their observations about the world around them.

Developing a safe space and process for students to explore their own unique strengths and interests can happen in a variety of ways in the classroom. Individualized education plans or portfolios can help to house different activities students curate to "know thyself." Assessments are great starting points but only become meaningful with reflection and application throughout the content over time.

As global educators, we can bring this personalized knowledge through extension by starting a project with a strengths-based approach, or using it as a way for students to reflect on a learning experience in any content area.

Resources: Check out these lessons around identity and self-awareness from Random Acts of Kindness, or these from Education World, which help develop students' self concepts.

2. Self Management

"Self management" reflects the student's ability to successfully regulate their emotions and behaviors in different situations. 

As global learners, we invite students to investigate the world around them and explore situations outside their everyday experience. In doing so, they expose themselves to questions and challenges beyond their comfort zone from a variety of sources. Creating time to talk about this process itself, and the vulnerability they may feel about researching problems that have no "right" answer, is an opportunity for growth.

Resources: Check out these resources from Teaching Tolerance, which help students explore the variety of the human experience, and these from Mindful Schools for ideas on how to integrate self-management practices into your classroom. 

3. Social Awareness

"Social awareness" champions the ability of the student to take the perspective and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

At its core, this is the ultimate rationale for global learning, isn't it? While content knowledge is still critical, it's this skill that allows students to know something about the world around them. As an educator, I've been guilty of spending more time trying to connect my students with classrooms across the world than with other students across their classroom. 

The importance of empathy has been linked to everything from business to career success and has a huge impact on the ability of students to form successful relationships throughout life. It provides them with the curiosity needed to ask meaningful questions about the world and a solid platform for critical thinking around real-life challenges. 

Resources: Check out these project-based lessons around developing empathy within your classroom from Random Acts of Kindness, and these for global application from Asia Society.

4. Relationship Skills

"Relationship skills" addresses the student's ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse groups and individuals. 

Global competence requires a student be able to communicate ideas to a variety of audiences. We may do this in small group projects and design challenges or class presentations to give students an opportunity to express themselves. While speaking and listening are part of our language arts standards, students also must navigate new forms of relationships in their worlds, such as those through social media. Additionally, previously inherent inter-generational relationships are becoming less common as communities have fewer opportunities to engage across generations. What are we doing to help students cultivate skills to keep them safe in the digital world and stay connected in the real one? Simple adjustments to the way in which we ask or evaluate how students are communicating can help build relationship skills.

Resources: Check out these activities from ACT for Youth designed to help students build and manage positive relationships, and these from Common Sense Media about digital citizenship

5. Responsible Decision Making

"Responsible decision making" highlights the student's ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms.

Globally competent students feel empowered to take action. For many of us, the evidence that learning took place in our 21st-century classroom is that some action occurred as a result of student inquiry. The ability to take action comes from the confidence and actualization that is built into the process of investigating the world, weighing perspectives, and communicating ideas. When students are given the opportunity to practice these global competencies in your classroom, their ability to make responsible decisions outside your classroom increases as well.

Resources: Check out these lessons around decision-making from Discovery Education other additional activities from Random Acts of Kindness that support social emotional learning.

There are many compelling reasons to embed social-emotional learning into classroom practice, and a recent cost-benefit analysis provides one more. In a 2015 report, researchers from Columbia University released data showing the return on investment in SEL programs to be 11 to 1 across six different interventions they investigated. This return on investment could be calculate in terms of lower drop-out rates, reduced mental health costs, higher wage outcomes, and reduced need for public services.

While teachers have long shared anecdotal evidence of the long-term benefits of SEL, recent data presents an excellent opportunity for making it a priority this coming school year.

Connect with Heather Ridge on Twitter.

Image courtesy of the author.

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