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SOCIO-EMOTIONAL LEARNING: Turning Students Into Adept, Empathetic, & Responsible Members of Society.

A quick scan of the Internet unearths an array of articles about the importance of social-emotional learning, or SEL. There’s teachers online exclaiming that it’s essential to integrate SEL into your classroom; there’s education conferences and news headlines telling you that it’s the most important skill you can teach your students.

SEL is becoming a priority for many schools. This has escalated and become even more significant due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are increasingly spending class budgets and class time on curriculum, software and professionals to introduce and promote SEL throughout schools.

But what actually is social-emotional learning, and why is it so crucial?

“Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a methodology that helps students of all ages to better comprehend their emotions, to feel those emotions fully, and demonstrate empathy for others,” says National University, a private university in southern California. “These learned behaviors are then used to help students make positive, responsible decisions; create frameworks to achieve their goals, and build positive relationships with others.”

Social-emotional learning turns students into adept, empathetic, and responsible members of society. So how is this taught? What are the characteristics of an SEL curriculum?

CASEL is a research- and policy-based initiative dedicated to the implementation of SEL programs in schools across the United States. According to their organization, there are five core competencies to social-emotional learning.

The first core competency is self-awareness. Self-aware students can recognize their emotions and how they impact their behavior. They are also able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses to gain confidence in their social, emotional, and academic abilities.

The second core competency is self-management, which encourages students to set and work towards short- and long-term goals, as well as taking ownership of their thoughts, emotions, and acti

The third core competency, social awareness, seeks to teach empathy and ethics to students within their home, school, and other communities.

Relationship skills, the fourth core competency, focuses on students’ ability to build and maintain healthy relationships with people of different walks of life. This competency teaches listening and communication skills and peaceful conflict resolution.

The fifth and final competency is responsible decision-making. This competency equips students with learned behaviors such as ethics, safety, and weighing consequences. With these tools, students can choose how to act in various situations to support their own well-being and the well-being of those around them.

According to CASEL, a student who possesses these five core competencies has increased social and emotional skills, better relationships with others, and a decline in behavioral problems and substance abuse. They also have more positive perceptions of their school and classroom environments, leading to better long-term academic performance.

The CASEL 2017 study, alongside the University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University, and the University of British Columbia show that students who regularly practice SEL show more positive behaviors and are more prepared for success in the workforce. An earlier study by CASEL found that SEL led to an 11 percentile point gain in academic performance. These studies also found that the benefits of SEL in school can impact students for up to 18 years.

It’s clear that social-emotional learning is incredibly important for students’ long-term success, both in and out of the classroom, but how can it be implemented into a classroom?

Integrating SEL into daily lessons

Without an official CASEL program, integrating SEL into daily lessons can feel daunting. However, according to Karen VanAusdal, senior director of Practice for The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), educators can incorporate SEL into any classroom activity.

“If I'm designing a science lesson, I would have a science objective, but I might also have an SEL objective,” VanAusdal says. “‘I want students to know how to collaborate in a group to solve a problem,’ might be an SEL objective. ‘I want students to persist through challenging thinking and challenging work.’ I do that in the design of my instruction. And then I also make that...transparent to students that this is part of what we're learning here.”

DigiPals offers the opportunity to integrate SEL objectives into everyday learning and also provides students with opportunities to practice SEL skills authentically. Communicating with a pen pal, who is from a different place to them and may have different perspectives, customs and values, allows students to develop empathy, communication skills, and social skills. Through their interactions with their pen pals, they learn to develop healthy relationships. They listen to each other, communicating effectively and respectfully. Students also gain a sense of empathy, forming a connection with their pen pal—from a different state or country—and placing themselves in the other person’s shoes.

The importance of social-emotional learning is underscored by DigiPals’ mission: to create more human harmony worldwide. Students who are self-aware, able to self-manage, socially aware, can form healthy relationships, and can make responsible decisions are able to make a positive difference in the world.

Click here to see details on how you can use DigiPals to develop students Socio-Emotional Skills through real-life stories and first-hand interactions. Information on how DigiPals is aligned to CASEL's core competences can also be found here.

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