What is Social Emotional Learning?
Social/emotional learning has everything to do with emotional intelligence and how our heart and brain are connected. Students in school spend everyday learning lessons about math, science, history, reading and so on. But rarely do teachers who teach these subjects tap into how students feel about these subjects on an emotional level. How can math be emotional you wonder? Simple. Remember pounding your head when you would erase wrong answer after wrong answer on a math worksheet? I can. What I did not know at the time was what learning math was doing for the rest of my brain. If I had a bad day at school and was punched in the face by a bully, I was less likely to remember what the teacher taught in math class. The connection between what we feel emotionally and what we learn is clear. When the emotional center of your brain, the amygdalia, turns on, in a student the reasoning center and learning center can turn off. They become so upset that the emotional moment consumes their thoughts and hinders learning. Teaching students to communicate about how they feel, not only makes them feel better, but also opens the floodgates for other school subjects to enter their mind, because their brain is free from emotional turmoil.
How do we teach it?
Social and emotional learning has a curriculum and standards just like any other subject in school. Most teachers are unaware of this. Schools health teachers should familiarize themselves with this curriculum, but other teachers can too and should. Simply taking a few minutes at the beginning or end of the class period to “talk” can give kids an opportunity to politely voice a frustration or incident that caused emotional pain. Allowing for stories of success can also have equal value. A teacher can make connections to how students treat each other and how that may lead to poor performance in school. Having students answer this question will allow the teacher to gain influence with the student and open the door to their heart and how they feel. Focusing on these 5 competencies can allow teachers to build trust and foster a healthy learning environment:
Tips for teachers:
Integrate Social/Emotional Learning skills into the daily curriculum.
Exhibit pro-social and emotionally intelligent behavior to your students. Be a role model.
Value social and emotional intelligence in your students as highly as you value their cognitive development.
Be alert to teachable moments that occur naturally in the classroom; for example: moments when you notice a shift in mood, a conflict, a caring act. Don’t just yell, explain a better option. Don’t just applaud, explain why, and speak to them how you would want to be spoken to. Please don’t use baby voices or speak slowly to get a point across. Talk to them like an adult. Most adolescents want to be, so talk to them like one.
Investigate successful programs.
Look for ways that technology can enhance and ignite discussions in classrooms on social-emotional competencies, such as videos, media stories/current events and reality television programs.
Create student led groups where issues are discussed and solutions to problems are found. Believe it or not students sometimes want to help other students. Allowing them to do so is vital to their emotional development. And yes, any teacher can do this.
What are the benefits?
The simple act of talking about an emotional episode can begin to help the student break free from the knots that are created in the brain and heart. It also creates the one thing I think lacks among students in school and their peers, and it’s called empathy. It’s simply the act of understanding and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. The connection to future success and mature emotional awareness is clear. The sooner students feel emotionally aware of themselves and their surroundings, the sooner they can succeed. A professional future is important and an emotional future caries equal if not greater value.