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Nurturing Hearts & Noggins

Promoting academic, social, and emotional learning for lifelong success

What is social and emotional learning?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase, social and emotional learning? What does it mean? What does it look like? If it were happening in a classroom, would you recognize it? I ask these questions quite often of teachers and parents who attend my SEL trainings. The responses run the gamut, but I typically hear, "I'm not sure," or "I think I'm doing it a little bit," or my personal favorite, "I don't know what it is, but it sounds good, and I want it." The practice and study of social and emotional learning is becoming increasingly popular in Illinois and in other states throughout the country, but many are unsure of what it means.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) refers to the process by which children (and adults) acquire the knowledge and essential skills to manage the social and emotional aspects of their lives. The "social" aspect of SEL is about teaching youth to develop and sustain positive, healthy relationships with peers, teachers, and family members. The "emotional" aspect of SEL is about teaching youth to be keenly aware of their emotions and feelings–fostering self-knowledge. The social component is reflective of interpersonal development, and the emotional component is primarily intrapersonal development. The "learning" component of SEL means that social and emotional skills can be taught and learned through instruction, practice, and feedback. The idea that these skills can be learned naturally connects SEL to the academic mission of schools.

SEL is also rooted in children's mental health. We have SEL learning standards in Illinois because of the growing concern about the mental well-being of young people. The rise in school shootings and suicide among youth heavily influenced the debate. The Illinois Children's Mental Health Act of 2003 mandated every school district in Illinois to address the social and emotional needs of all students. Every two years, each school district in Illinois must submit an updated plan that details how students' social and emotional needs will be met and how the learning standards will be implemented. The learning standards are comprised of three goals, specifically addressing the five core competency skills for SEL: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills. Most SEL curricula/activities are designed to address one or more of the five core competency areas.

So, again, I ask: Is social and emotional learning happening within your school? How about within your home, or after-school program? What does it look like?

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