What is it? How does it impact ELT practices? What are the opportunities for educators? By Monica Rodrigues Salvo
Social-emotional learning: what is it? How does it impact ELT practices? What are the opportunities for educators?
Emotions drive our attention, enrich our memories, and underline our executive functions.
As humans, our most important interactions are emotional, and as teachers, we are emotional beings. We know that for truly equipping our students for life, and in order to create deep, long lasting learning experiences, we need to help them develop social and emotional skills. But how can we possibly design learning experiences that support the full range of our learners and engage their emotions?
Educational systems should prepare students for core academic skills, but also contribute to prepare them to work well with others from diverse backgrounds in socially and emotionally skilled ways, practice healthy behaviors, and behave responsibly and respectfully (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2007; Greenberg et al., 2003). Current research indicates that when schools support SEL, students benefit in both academic achievement and improved social emotional functioning (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011)
However, schools and teachers have limited resources and important time constraints to address all these cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of education
How can teachers embrace SEL development under so much pressure? One of the most recurrent questions I hear in my teacher training sessions is: How do we do this? And WHEN do we do it? We hardly have time to cover the demands of our curricula. When is SEL development supposed to fit in? In my experience, SEL teaching and learning should be very realistic. And we need to consider our REAL teaching settings and challenges. We have little time, sometimes extremely limited resources, and in many cases not all authorities can see the importance and value of SEL. True. Now, all of us teachers can make a difference in our students’ lives just allocating 15 minutes of our classes a week: activities, mindfulness games, role-plays, reflection circles etc. Short interventions, interwoven with sustained practice, can make a huge difference. Through these short activities, we develop aspects such as self and social awareness, emotional regulation and relationship-building.
For some years now I have helped Institutions implement regular programs for social and emotional development.
Beyond all academics and research, I have seen the power of SEL in action. I have witnessed how students from kinder to secondary school flourish when learning how to communicate assertively, express and regulate their emotions for improved relationships; when they learn how to be more compassionate, more empathic, how to build effective communication, and how to cope better with stress.
For any SEL program to be effective, two main principles should apply: changes should be sustained and cross- curricular. SEL can be learnt and taught, but it needs to be done in a systematic, organized way. And everyone at the educational institutions should be involved, mainly because these skills are learnt though OUR modeling.
SEL implementations should cover these core 5 areas:
Self awareness involves our capacity to recognize our emotions and label them. It implies recognizing our strengths as well as our weaknesses. It is basically about connecting with our inner world.
Once self awareness is tackled, we can now move into managing our emotions. Emotional regulation is the key concept. In this area we help students make the most of their emotions, triggering the calm brain and providing tools to be more in control of their emotional states.
Moving now into the social realm, social awareness is about becoming conscious of differences, and valuing different points of view. It is related to culture sensitivity as well, and lies as the foundational step for embracing diversity.
Relationship building in the area where social aspects are at full swing. Through games, activities, role-plays and reflection tasks we can help our students improve their relationships through empathy, connection, and improved communication skills. It involves basic 21st century competences such as cooperation, collaboration and team- building.
Responsible decision making
All the four previous areas get into action for responsible decision making. Accountability is the key word, becoming both more empathic and more responsible about the impact our decisions have on others, and the world. The first two areas are related to interpersonal skills, and the others, closely connected to the social and interpersonal world. We clearly start developing these skills from the awareness realm: self and social awareness first, to then move into the social areas.
Teaching SEL is a DECISION, and all of us, educators, have the possibility and a huge opportunity to help our students connect to this knowledge. There are many simple strategies that we can realistically implement in our classrooms, using the same teaching materials we are using, and give SEL a chance.
Experience has taught me that these plans are as transformative a journey for students as they are for teachers. I truly believe Social and Emotional development is not only a missing piece in Education, but the plate where all pieces fit in. As educators, we have a tremendous opportunity to help our students use their minds and their hearts to build a better future, let us not waste this chance!
Monica Salvo is a graduate English teacher from Argentina, sworn public translator and holds a post- graduate degree in Human Resources. She is a certified and accredited Neurolanguage Coach and a Mindfulness practitioner from University of California (UCLA) She also holds a diploma in Social and Emotional Learning from San Diego University. She specializes in Social and Emotional Learning and Mindfulness for Education. She has presented extensively in plenary, semi plenary and worksop sessions in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, UK, Peru, Germany and France.She currently runs her own Educational Institution, InspirED Consultora Educativa.