SEL is a cornerstone of every young student’s learning experience. Instead of learning about typical school subjects like mathematics or English, they spend SEL sessions reflecting on their learning capacity. Common themes are self-awareness, social awareness, and sensible decision making.
A critical study (Durlak et al., 2011) showed how effective SEL studies increase students’ academic achievement by 11 percentage points. Aside from this, prosocial behaviors like kindness, empathy, and sharing also increase, leading to more friendly communities. Mental health improves, in turn, with fewer reported cases of stress and depression amongst students.
What exactly does SEL teach?
Here is a brief breakdown of the five critical skills developed by useful SEL:
- Self-awareness: This involves becoming knowledgeable about your values, goals, and emotions as an individual. Developing optimism and high self-esteem are healthy habits to get into at a young age as it gives a reliable platform for personal growth in later life.
- Self-management: Someone who is vital at this facet of SEL skills could be viewed by others as ‘emotionally mature.’ Self-management skills include learning to delay gratification, manage stress, and control impulse reactions for the greater good. Personal and educational goals are often dependent on strong self-management – procrastination is a prime example of failing to control an impulse and concentrate on the task.
- Social awareness: Conversational social norms are developed through increasing social interaction with different people. Strong social understanding involves being able to feel empathy for people from different cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds and showing compassion.
- Relationship skills: Learning how to manage different types of relationships with parents, friends, and romantic partners are crucial to developing this skill. Following the social norms expected in a particular relationship dynamic, such as providing emotional support and listening with intent, is vital for learning for young people.
- Responsible decision making: Finally, SEL studies teach young people how to make positive choices surrounding their behavior and future careers. Children learn how all options should be made with ethical and safety concerns in front of mind and consideration for the effects their choices will have on people they care about.
Teachers should be encouraged to teach children these fundamental SEL values in a proactive way, giving real-life scenarios in which these five facets are worked on. Going a step further, teachers can also tie in SEL lessons with other school subjects, giving them opportunities to develop their formal studies’ interpersonal skills.
Computer science, coding, and SEL
This method may not work for all students, but it can help enhance SEL skills if concepts are processed in a way that mirrors computer science logic.
With today’s generation of young people having an incredibly long screen time per day than previous generations, it makes sense to use familiar terms when breaking down complex social relationships.
As access to computers and advanced computer science material becomes more prevalent, coding is becoming an increasingly popular pastime for young people. For young people enthusiastic about coding but hesitant about getting involved in SEL activities, it is possible that their digital hobby can help out.
Social activities can be fraught with complexity for the less experienced participants. An unexpected angry reaction or a joke taken the wrong way can lead to hostile confrontations. It does not need to be this way, as SEL can teach people how to handle the vast majority of social situations with grace.
Using the example of coding, we can teach young people to take excessive emotion out of potentially confusing social interactions.
Let’s take the example of a simple ‘if-then statement.’ In coding, this means that output will only be registered if a specific condition is met. In school, this could be translated to the following: “if I participate more often in class, I will gain a better understanding of the subject.”
This kind of statement can be applied to a whole host of situations, helping the student understand what is required from them in different social causes.
A similar example would be the ‘while loop,’ which defines that a specific desired outcome will not be possible during one variable’s presence. In a student’s life, this could be something along the lines of: “while I regularly make rude remarks to other students, I will not develop many relationships.” This ties in with SEL and learning how to manage conflict and nurture healthy relationships with peers.
Also referred to as ‘computational thinking,’ this is all about teaching young people to think algorithmically to make more sense of the path to their desired social goals. The study of robotics, computing, and related fields leads children to believe in this way naturally. While building out a robot’s expected behavior, there are plenty of ‘if-then statements’ and similar logic to apply. As a person’s mind becomes used to thinking in such terms, they will also begin to apply it to their everyday life.
Potentially, then, computational thinking could become another technique for teachers to use as they attempt to convey the values of SEL to their students meaningfully. Naturally, some will take to this more easily than others, but it could be the perfect solution for logically-minded students.
—Jack Vale is a writer for Advance Online, online health and safety training provider.