Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a field that has gained significant attention and research in recent years. As a creator of a Social-Emotional Curriculum and School Psychologist supporting teachers with SEL, I’d like to help bring clarity and understanding of SEL is…and isn’t. Of what some truths are and what things might be more of myths about SEL.
Here are 10 truths and 10 myths about Social-Emotional Learning…aka, “SEL”
Let’s start with some Myths about SEL. These are some of the things that are maybe wishful thinking or are misunderstandings about what SEL can do.
- SEL Is a Replacement for Discipline
SEL is not about replacing discipline. In fact, there’s not really any element of “discipline” incorporated in Social-Emotional Learning. It’s about teaching students skills to manage their emotions and behavior effectively. Managing emotions will PREVENT discipline. Not replace it.
- SEL Is a Quick Fix
Implementing SEL is a gradual process that requires time, commitment, and consistent effort. It’s not a quick solution for complex societal issues. Just like counseling, one session is not going to change someone overnight. Trust me, I counsel kids. I really wish I could solve their problems and teach them a life-time of knowledge about emotional regulation and social skills in one session. I’d have so much time!
- SEL Is Only for Younger Students
SEL is effective for students of all ages, including adults, and can be tailored to meet the specific needs and developmental levels of different age groups. Do you know any adults that could use some instruction in anger management? I do.
- SEL Is Only for Troubled Students.
SEL is beneficial for all students, not just those facing challenges. It is the practice of teaching skills that will enhance the well-being and academic success of every student.
- SEL Is All About Feel-Good Activities.
While fun games and activities are part of SEL, it also involves teaching crucial skills like decision-making, conflict resolution, and critical thinking.
- SEL Is in Isolation from Academic Learning.
SEL should be integrated into academic curricula and not seen as separate from traditional learning. It complements and enhances academic outcomes. It can be incorporated into daily or weekly routines, such as using a behavior rewards system, posting a feelings chart on the wall, or greeting students in the morning and giving each one a compliment or a question about what they are looking forward to for the day. It can be integrated into curriculum through discussions and relating characters in history or a story to a topic of empathy, social skills, or conflict resolution. It’s really that easy.
- SEL Is One-Size-Fits-All
Effective SEL programs are flexible and adaptable to diverse cultural and contextual differences, not a standardized approach. There’s no one SEL Program that is for every child or school. Schools, kids, and communities have different cultures. The Summit SEL program was created to be as broad as possible in order to address social skills, emotional regulation, and behavior difficulties for Elementary School Students. But, other SEL programs may address other age groups, cultures, or competencies, such as responsible decision making and responsibility with more of an emphasis.
- SEL Can Be Taught in Isolation
SEL is most effective when integrated into the entire school environment, involving teachers, parents, and the community for consistent reinforcement. For example, your school may have a school-wide positive behavior program, while each teacher may have their own behavior system, such as a clip chart, “D.A.B. Badges”, or “D.A.B. Dollars”. A teacher may also do daily restorative circles or have students use a feelings chart to help communicate when they are having a rough day.
- SEL Requires Specialized Experts
While the expertise of your school counselor or psychologist is valuable, teachers can be effectively trained to implement SEL without being specialized SEL professionals. I can’t speak to other SEL curriculums, but the one that I created, Summit SEL, is for teachers to use in their classroom, not counselors. It is easy enough for teachers to use without any training because it is full of Videos, Circle Prompts, and centers games and activities that require minimal prep no experience necessary.
- SEL Focuses Only on Positive Emotions
SEL includes addressing a wide range of emotions and behaviors, both positive and negative, and equips individuals to manage and understand all emotions effectively. As a School Psychologist, I work ALL DAY LONG with student who struggle with regulating their emotions, using strategies for coping with big feelings, and getting through the day without a behavior.
Do I think that these are the only children in my schools with difficulty regulating their emotions? Definitely NOT! I just work with the students who struggle the most. As a mom and professional in the area of mental health, I’m well aware that most children, and adults, struggle from time to time with remaining calm when frustrated, coping with stressful situations, and dealing positively with negative emotions. Many children tend to internalize these emotions, however, which is less obvious that my externalizing friends. This can also have negative physical and mental health consequences that are more difficult to identify the cause of, such as stomach or chest pains, avoidance behaviors, depression, or loss of academic motivation.
Now, let’s take a look at the Truths! These are things that research has shown about implementing SEL in your classroom or school-site.
- SEL Enhances Academic Performance
Numerous studies show that integrating SEL into education improves academic outcomes, including better grades and test scores. So, adding SEL in some form or another can make you look even more like the amazing teacher that you already are. You’ll just have even better test scores to show for it.
- SEL Fosters Positive Behavior
Implementing SEL programs helps in reducing behavioral issues and promoting prosocial behavior among students. Using classroom behavior systems and providing instruction on topics, such as Conflict Resolution and Emotional Regulation, through a multi-modal approach will definitely give your students the skills, knowledge, and tools to prevent behaviors in your classroom and on the playground.
Children are not born knowing how to get along with others and control their emotions. They learn through experience and through explicit instruction and practice. While some homes may be able to provide this, many do not. By providing SEL in schools, you will be bridging the gap for many of your students who have not yet been taught important skills that will decrease their behavioral issues.
- SEL Supports Mental Health
SEL equips students with skills to manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, contributing to overall well-being. SEL is mostly a Tier 1 MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports). It is the first step in providing instruction and practice in the life-skills that students might need to later receive in small group or individual counseling if SEL is not implemented in their school or classroom.
- SEL Improves Relationships
Teaching SEL skills cultivates empathy and communication abilities, leading to healthier relationships both within and outside of school. I can’t tell you about what is in other SEL programs, but every grade level curriculum in the Summit SEL Program has at least two of the five levels that are dedicated to teaching Social Skills. This includes a variety of Social Skills topics, such as making friends, cooperating with others, resolving conflicts, personal space, being a good listener, and showing empathy.
These skills will generalize from school to home, of course, as Social Skills are a life-skill. It will benefit children in school, at home, and in the future when they are adults in the workplace. It will also help children as they transition from children to teens and adults have the skills for having healthy relationships with others. This can include both friendships and romantic relationships. Now, isn’t that important?!!!
- SEL Is Lifelong Learning
SEL skills are not just for students but for lifelong application, aiding in personal and professional success. Just think about all of the skills needed to finish school and then gain, and remain employed. You need to use self-discipline, responsibility, executive functioning, emotional regulation, and social skills…probably every day! When adults do not have one or more of these skills, it is much harder for them to finish high school or college, and maintain employment. Just think about your difficult co-workers who are always on the cusp of getting fired. It is likely that they lack social skills, self-management, or other skills that can be taught through SEL.
- SEL Is Inclusive
Effective SEL programs are inclusive and adapt to diverse cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic contexts. While this is not the really the focus of SEL, it only makes sense that it would teach kids about living in the world of today, which is diverse, and accepting others for who they are and where they came from. SEL instruction and practices should never be about exclusion. That would be the opposite of SEL to teach kids to not accept others, dislike differences, and find reasons to exclude others.
- SEL Is Teacher Training
Educators require training and ongoing support to effectively integrate SEL into their teaching practices and classroom culture. While the Summit SEL program is very easy to use and requires no explicit training, incorporating SEL practices into the grade level curriculum may require some instruction through professional developments or other teacher trainings.
- SEL Addresses Bullying
Bullying is really a buzz word for acts of passive, or assertive, verbal and physical aggression. The Summit SEL program and many other SEL Programs can significantly reduce instances of bullying by promoting empathy and understanding among students through instruction in Social Skills. Many students who “bully” often lack self-esteem and/or social skills. By teaching students these skills through SEL, children can better identify their feelings and use strategies to cope with negative emotions instead of bullying others to find their self-esteem.
- SEL Promotes Civic Engagement
SEL fosters responsible citizenship and encourages active participation in the community and society.
- SEL Enhances School Climate
Implementing SEL positively influences the overall school climate, creating a safer and more nurturing environment for everyone. When kids learn how to get along with others, manage their emotions, use executive functioning skills, resolve conflicts, and control their behaviors, they will become and feel more successful in school. These positive emotions will then foster a sense of belonging and enthusiasm for learning, bringing about a more positive school culture.