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SEL can assist in addressing various forms of inequity and empowering children and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to healthy, safe, and just communities.
FREMONT, CA: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a study this month that found one-third of high school students had poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic – an unsurprising trend that educators have been working to combat for the past year.
Many schools claim to use social and emotional learning techniques to assist struggling students. But what exactly is social and emotional learning? And how well does it work?
Over the last year and a half, social and emotional learning, or SEL, has come under increasing fire from parents and politicians. Some have confused the term with critical race theory, or CRT, another contentious issue among conservatives that has received widespread coverage.
A group of researchers, educators, practitioners, and child advocates formed the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning in 1994. It coined the phrase "social and emotional learning," which now leads the nation's efforts to provide emotional support to all students.
Social and emotional learning is "the process by which all adults and young people acquire and apply the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to manage emotions, develop healthy identities, and collective goals and achieve personal, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions."
In schools, there is a continuum of mental health support for students. On one end, there are specialized resources and therapists for children with severe mental health issues. However, on the other side is a universal approach. For example, teachers may spend time discussing self-control with younger students or have students sit in a circle and take turns sharing how they're feeling on any given day. Identifying emotion is a critical component of elementary students' social and emotional learning framework.
Older students may discuss coping strategies for dealing with grief, violence prevention techniques, or the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships in families, friendships, and dating.
Mindfulness exercises and working relaxation into a child's daily routine – whether in the car, at dinner, or while brushing teeth – will help those techniques stick. Teaching these skills to children can help prevent future mental health issues, behavioral issues, and addiction disorders. However, social and emotional learning can only be effective if the entire school staff, parents, and communities are on board.
Schools should communicate the social and emotional learning goals they are working on with students to parents and provide resources to reinforce those learning goals at home, just as parents might help with reading or math homework.