Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which all people acquire and apply the knowledge, social and emotional skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, and achieve personal and collective goals.
SEL helps teach students and young adults how to feel and appropriately show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. SEL programs have been shown to increase classroom behavior, manage stress and depression in students, and have better attitudes about themselves, others, and their learning environment.
It’s also been proven that students who participate in SEL programs academically perform 11 percentile points higher than students who do not.
The Comprehensive Impact of SEL
It would be wrong to limit SEL instruction to students who have shown signs of needing extra support, such as by misbehaving or not performing at the standard that is expected of them. While it is certainly true that SEL can provide the resources and social and emotional skills necessary to combat such issues, its impacts are much more far-reaching.
Whether it’s bullying, suicide, substance abuse, social media pressures, family/relational issues, depression and anxiety, fear of the future, low self-esteem, peer pressure, or something else, almost all, if not all, students face some sort of mental or emotional struggle that can affect their academic performance and overall well-being.
The Social–Emotional Impact of the Pandemic on Different Types of Performers
This is especially true today, as we have just reached the one-year anniversary of the onset of the pandemic. In the last 12 months, students have had to adjust to several unprecedented challenges: distance/virtual learning, uncertainty of the future, and isolation, just to name a few.
Some students might struggle to keep up with assignments, pay attention in class, and/or maintain motivation to succeed in their studies. These issues have always posed challenges for many students, but with less supervision and more distractions at home, coupled with general nationwide chaos, staying afloat in their academic responsibilities is understandably much harder.
Still other students may be turning in their work on time and maintaining good grades while simultaneously struggling with stress, anxiety, and a fear of inadequacy that both fuels their desire to maintain high levels of achievement and also contributes to great mental distress.
The latter group is harder to detect because the signs aren’t as obvious as poor behavioral tendencies or falling progress reports. Having good grades certainly helps improve and stabilize your mental and emotional state, but it doesn’t necessarily shield you against mental and emotional stressors.
Each type of hardship warrants a social and emotional fallback that students may not be prepared to handle and manage, which is how SEL can provide assistance to learners of all levels.
How Social and Emotional Skills Can Benefit All Types of Students
Social and emotional learning teaches emotional intelligence in a variety of different ways and through several different topics and contexts. Although there are many more social and emotional skillsets that students learn through participating in an SEL program, the following list contains a few of the most relevant for all types of students during this time:
Stress Management and Resistance
Everyone experiences stress, and the events over the past year warrant their own significant stressors, but being a student at the same time adds another layer that might look different for each person.
SEL teaches social and emotional skills such as mindfulness and provides strategies to help students remain calm, handle different situations rationally, find outlets to mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety, and seek support if needed.
Emotional regulation is critical to our ability to function properly and tend to the issues that we want and need to handle.
With anxiety and depression rates at all-time highs, teens need extra support to handle these issues before they become more severe or follow them into their adulthood. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can develop healthy ways to respond.
SEL helps students identify, understand, and manage different emotions, which then enables them to remain centered, grounded, and focused in the face of frustration. Staying centered also allows them to think rationally and succeed more easily.
SEL helps to train students’ minds to consistently perceive their circumstances in a positive light, which can be a hard thing to do, even for the best of us.
An SEL curriculum typically teaches students how to recognize negative thinking patterns and form a habit of positivity, which also helps them to perform better and have positive expectations for themselves and life in general, with or without the added stress a pandemic brings.
Having an optimistic personality is also a protective factor against developing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
While some students may need help adapting to the increased pressure of performing well amidst various challenges, others may need help adapting to the sudden disruption in their typical routine, connectedness to school, and future plans.
SEL programs often equip students with strategies and mindsets that help them adapt to new circumstances so they are not held back by things they cannot control. Many programs focus on enhancing social and emotional skills such as grit, problem-solving, perseverance, and resiliency.
Goal-Setting and Achievement Orientation
SEL enhances students’ self-awareness, and part of that includes helping students identify and create short- and long-term goals for themselves while equipping them with practical strategies to reach those different objectives.
While over-achievers may not struggle as much as other students, they may need support in setting other goals—or goals that are more realistic or attainable—that will help them become more well-rounded. Under- or normal achievers may need extra support in exploring their interests and increasing their self-efficacy to help them aim higher.
Passion and Energy
By focusing on self-awareness and self-management, SEL helps students look within to find passion and enthusiasm for themselves and the future, and identify their personal strengths and interests.
With so many things around us being seemingly stripped away and unstable, it is easy to let that take a toll on our excitement and joyfulness, which might show up as decreased motivation or a lost sense of purpose for excelling. SEL helps students recover that sense of passion by refocusing the attention back on the student, independent of what’s happening around them in the day-to-day.