Social Emotional Learning – Improved Mental Health in Schools

Amy Jones
Education Consultant
School IQ

Students and staff face unprecedented mental health challenges in our schools.

This has been a very tough stretch for our schools, between the pandemic, family pressures and illness, economic challenges, political and racial unrest, global climate change and a general increase of intensity in all areas of life. For our students, it can all feel like too much. As the adults in the education spaces, it is up to us to create the environments and conditions for our students to feel safe, welcomed, acknowledged, supported and accepted.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of social emotional learning (often shown by the acronym SEL). SEL is the bubble that surrounds how adults exist and interact with students in a school setting. Often the SEL term is used to sell programs, resources, workshops and consultant expertise. SEL can be enhanced by all of these, but they are not necessary to implement SEL. A good way to think of it is social emotional learning is everything that takes place in a classroom or school setting that impacts student mental health and learning. Every interaction, every conversation, every lesson or activity is an opportunity to bring SEL to the table.

The nation’s top center for SEL research is Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL. They have a framework for teaching SEL across a variety of settings in which they identify five core competencies: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision-Making. It is easy to see how often anything and everything you do as an adult in a school setting could fall into one of those framework buckets.

Being thoughtful about planning with SEL in mind is crucial. In addition, SEL is a newer concept, but it has always been around. Remember a teacher who made you feel special and heard. Think of a coach who encouraged you to do hard things and to get better. These were all times that SEL was in practice.

As you move forward in your practice, take time to think about the systems, structures, supports and staffing to support social emotional learning in your classroom and/or school and how SEL has the potential to improve the collective mental health of your students and the staff in your school community.

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