Social Emotional Learning

Maine Association for Infant Mental Health

Social Emotional Learning

Social Emotional Learning (SEL), what is it? Why is this so important for growth and development within a child’s life, and why are schools, communities embracing this now as our world continues to go through changes. Some changes are known, and some are unknown as COVID continues to be present. I wanted to start off my writing with this poem that I feel captures SEL very well.

I am going to address the definition of SEL, the importance of SEL, myths of SEL, along with the impact of SEL for children and long-term effects of SEL and social development. Then I will finish with providing tools that can be useful in cross over into the classroom.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL): The set of skills, knowledge, and behaviors involved in understanding and managing emotions, setting positive goals, feeling empathy for others, engaging in relationships, and solving problems. Through SEL both students and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to manage their emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, reciprocate empathy for others, and make thoughtful decisions. These are crucial life skills.

There are 5 components of SEL which are, social- awareness, self-awareness, emotional management, responsible decision making and relationship skills that students need to succeed in every area and stage of their lives.

This is a collaborative relationship between students and adults as they acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to manage their emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, reciprocate empathy for others, and make thoughtful decisions which are the core concepts of CASEL, (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning). This requires teaching, and providing supports that can be utilized by educators, administrators, social workers, or anyone who is a part of a student’s life.

SEL focuses on the interconnectedness of school, family, and community to create environments that emphasize safe, trusting relationships and intentional curricula and instruction. SEL can build on issues around inequality and inspire young people and adults to have a voice and share their thoughts and feelings in continuing to foster healthy, thriving and equitable communities.

We all need authentic relationships that are trust worthy and build confidence in students to try new things, encourage open sharing of ideas, and to be themselves with their peers. This gives them permission to be who they are and feel that they matter.

Solid relationships are important for learning, as well as to provide healthy outlets for students to express negative emotions and feelings. The past 20 months living with COVID-19, we have all had feelings of depression, anxiety and restlessness triggered by COVID-19.

An understanding of SEL will help with building external relationships, though the most important relationship any student will develop at any point in their lives is the one they have with themselves.

SEL builds relationships using five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective and behavioral competencies, defined by CASEL.

These competencies are as follows: Self-awareness, social-awareness, relationship skills, self-management, and responsible decision-making. These can be used for any situations a school or community may be going through.

Self-Awareness: The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose. Such as: • Integrating personal and social identities • Identifying personal, cultural, and linguistic assets • Identifying one’s emotions • Demonstrating honesty and integrity • Linking feelings, values, and thoughts • Examining prejudices and biases • Experiencing self-efficacy • Having a growth mindset • Developing interests and a sense of purpose.

Social-Awareness: The ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, & contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports. Such as: • Taking others’ perspectives • Recognizing strengths in others • Demonstrating empathy and compassion • Showing concern for the feelings of others • Understanding and expressing gratitude • Identifying diverse social norms, including unjust ones • Recognizing situational demands and opportunities • Understanding the influences of organizations/systems on behavior

Relationship-skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed. Such as: • Communicating effectively • Developing positive relationships • Demonstrating cultural competency • Practicing teamwork and collaborative problem-solving • Resolving conflicts constructively • Resisting negative social pressure • Showing leadership in groups • Seeking or offering support and help when needed • Standing up for the rights of other.

Self-Management: The ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation & agency to accomplish personal/collective goals. Such as: • Managing one’s emotions • Identifying and using stress-management strategies • Exhibiting self-discipline and self-motivation • Setting personal and collective goals • Using planning and organizational skills • Showing the courage to take initiative • Demonstrating personal and collective agency.

Responsible-Decision Making: The ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being. Such as: • Demonstrating curiosity and open-mindedness • Identifying solutions for personal and social problems • Learning to make a reasoned judgment after analyzing information, data, facts • Anticipating and evaluating the consequences of one’s actions • Recognizing how critical thinking skills are useful both inside & outside of school • Reflecting on one’s role to promote personal, family, and community well-being • Evaluating personal, interpersonal, community, and institutional impact. www.casel.or/what-is-SEL

There are also benefits to social emotional learning in the classroom which includes improvement in school and classroom climate, increases student motivation for learning, teaches problem-solving skills, helps student set and meet goals, and reduces behavioral issues in the classroom. These skills teach study skills and habits, along with opening the door to discuss more about mental health needs, and moving past thinking, “what is wrong with you”, to “what happened to you”. There are many more benefits to SEL and classroom climate.

An important skill that SEL teaches and encourages is empathy, (understanding what another person is feeling), as this builds on conscious decision making and if students can have a sense and understanding of other’s feelings and emotions, then negative responses can decrease, and positive response increase. This builds in having more of a compassionate, kind, school environment. The more that empathy can be present and modeled, the more children will see and begin to also choose these approaches. Being able to understand and show empathy, can help in decreasing acting out behaviors, and build on developing and growing a conscience for all children. There is research noted that the impact of social-emotional learning runs deep. SEL is shown to increase academic achievement and positive social interactions, and decrease negative outcomes later in life. These competencies help individuals throughout their lives. This study found that teaching social emotional learning to kindergarteners leads to students being less likely to live in public housing, receive public assistance, or to be involved in criminal justice system according to Child Trends.

SEL teaches young students how to cope with everyday disappointments as well as deep cuts of trauma. “Students can better respond to the effects of trauma by developing social-emotional competencies. The brain’s neuroplasticity makes it possible for repeated experiences to shape the brain and even reverse the effects of chronic stress,” says Susan Ward-Roncalli, a Social-Emotional Learning Facilitator for the Division of Instruction with the Los Angeles Unified School District. For our most at-risk students, who live in poverty and/or who may witness or experience traumatic experiences, SEL is an extraordinary tool for repairing the damage and for building lifetime coping skills.

There are many tools available for all grades to address social emotional learning and here are some websites that maybe helpful in building your library of social emotional learning tools.

https://www.doe.k12.de.us

https://mylearningportal.org/?redirect_to=https%3A%2F%2Fmylearningportal.org%2Fchoose-your-program%2F

http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu

https://www.hmhco.com/blog/social-emotional-learning-activities-teach-students-tobe-the-best-version-of-themselves

Sel4Me | Registration & Login This is a great resource if you are teaching SEL in the class as there are options for every grade and videos to accompany the lesson.

What is nice about social emotional learning is that you can design a curriculum based on the needs of the classroom culture and build on each learning point. Taking each core competency and developing activities for each one will help children develop those skills and continue reinforcing from each grade to the next. It is encouraged to assess the culture of the classroom and structure your activities to address this culture and focus on building from these skills in developing new ones for your students.

Social Emotional Learning can be fun and rewarding as students are embracing their strengths, similarities and differences in building the best version of themselves, and we are all a part of this and can continue to be for a very long time.

Julia Macek, LCSW
Behavioral Health Specialist
Aroostook County Action Program

Supporting the Development of Self-Regulation in Children

Maine Association for Infant Mental Health

Supporting the Development of Self-Regulation in Children
By C. Michael Sandberg, MA

Recently the world of early childhood education has once again been echoing with terms like self-regulation, executive functioning, and social skills. This is a welcome moment! Not that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and literacy are not important, but, rather, that it is once again being realized that success academically, socially, and personally is more dependent on these “soft skills” than it is on the content of the knowledge being taught and learned!

Flavell in 1977 called these skills “one of the really central and significant cognitive-developmental hallmarks of the early childhood period.” Their importance has been well demonstrated by several recent studies that followed children over time. In one, done in New Zealand, 1037 kids were followed birth to 32 years. They were looking specifically at what they call self control, certainly one of what might today be called the executive functions. They defined self control as being willing to delay gratification, able to control your impulses, and able to modulate your emotional expression. Even though some of the study’s participants improved their ability to control themselves over the period of the study, they did find that self control at older ages could be largely predicted by self control at 5. Children were first measured at 3-5 with a 90-minute scored observation. They were scored again in their preteen years. In adulthood they were evaluated for several social, health, and financial outcomes. Their heath score was a composite of their cardiovascular health, respiratory system health, dental health, sexual health, and their inflammation status. They found that self control at 5 was highly predictive of improved finances, better physical health, lessened levels of substance dependency and fewer interactions with the justice system. They also found it to be predictive of better decision making in the teen years. Higher self control children were less likely to become pregnant as teenagers or to leave school early. They also had significantly fewer interactions with the authorities. They were also able to do an analysis comparing the differences using social situation as a child and IQ with those found using self control and they found that self control was a much better predictor.1

These kinds of results have been found by several other long-term studies.2 Interestingly these findings echo the findings of studies of the impact of quality early childhood programming such as that done of the High Scope programming evaluated by the Perry Preschool Project. There, even though the initial finding of improved IQ washed out over time, the children still had improved outcomes in terms of social, academic, and financial success. It could easily be argued that what they had gained was improved executive function. 3 For me, these are important findings because the children failing and being expelled by our schools and preschools are mostly being excluded because of poor self-regulation skills. 4 At the same time most researchers and educators agree that most executive function skills can be taught.

While most evaluators use teacher reporting to assess self-regulation skills, (the most responsible researchers recognize that there may be bias included in these ratings and evaluate the ratings across different ethnicities and SES (Socioeconomic Status) to guard against as much as they can), there is interestingly one evaluation method in relatively common use. It evaluates cognitive flexibility in 3-5 year olds by using cards featuring different attributes. There are different shapes, such as bunnies and turtles, and among each shape there are also two different colors. Children are asked to sort the cards by shape and then to switch and redo the sort by color. What is being evaluated is their ability to let go of the old references and switch to the new one. Most 3 year olds struggle with this change, while most 5-6 year olds can easily shift. This method, known as the dimensional change card sort, can separate the age at which children are able to succeed and show that cognitive flexibility is used as an indicator of emerging self-regulatory skills. 5 For me, this is reminiscent of Piaget’s work with classification and it may demonstrate a link between cognitive and social skills!

For a while, people also thought the marshmallow experiment conducted at Stanford could become an assessment tool. The method tried to evaluate the ability to delay gratification by tempting children with a marshmallow, while promising them a second one if they could wait about 15 minutes before eating it. While the researchers reported good predictive power of later success, when people tried to replicate the experiment controlling for SES, they found SES had a higher impact than any maturity measure. The kids, who could wait, were those who had not experienced scarcity!

In order to decide what we need to be teaching and come up with teaching methods, we need a more specific definition of these executive or self-regulation skills. They include the ability to monitor and manage emotions, thoughts and behavior via impulse control, maintaining attention and focus, filtering distractions, emotional regulation, problem solving, and prosocial behavior. When we know what we are trying to promote we can both appreciate and protect it when it is happening and know more about how to create situations that will enhance the learning of those skills.

Interestingly, even fetuses have some self regulation skills. We know that because their activity level often varies dependent on the mother’s activity and mood. After birth, many newborns also illustrate their ability by turning away to take a break after an intense social interaction. They know how to shut down in the face of too much stimulation! So we are not starting with a blank slate. Reading last month’s piece on perinatal psychology might give you some ideas on how to support higher skill levels even before a baby is born!

Once they are born, what can we be doing! We can help children learn that their emotions can be regulated. We do that by allowing them to become upset, and then intervening when they are no longer able to regulate and coregulating them through our calmness and nurturance. We do it by honoring when a child needs a break and waiting for them to come back online before proceeding. We do it by recognizing when they are losing focus or becoming too frustrated to continue and then supporting their efforts and directing their attention back to what they were working with. We do it by scaffolding their explorations (Tools of the Mind, a Vygotsky based curriculum has been shown to be very effective at building self-regulation skills for those children who are starting further behind. It was less effective for those who already had higher skill levels6).

The first key to all of this is that if we expect children to learn self regulation skills, we as the adults must model those skills and remain centered and calm. It is only when we are calm that we can use our support to calm children. How can we give teachers and caregivers the supports that allow them to be present and listening most of the time? When teachers become stressed by their jobs, they may react with frustration and anger to misbehavior in the room, leaving the children who are acting out feeling alone, without an ally. As allies we are engaged in trying to assist children in meeting their goals for themselves, while doing so in socially acceptable ways. When you see yourself getting that kind of support it is easier to let go of the emotionality of the moment and to begin to use and improve the functioning of your thinking brain. Mark Rains, a board member of the Maine Association for Infant Mental Health and a psychologist, suggests that when children lose it (Flip their lids to use Dan Siegel’s expression), they need us to help them feel safe, connected to others, help them learn language to talk about feelings, gradually support their ability to see the patterns in behavior, before we can expect them to be ready to plan better actions.7

In general, we have to ask, how can I support the child’s autonomy and self-regulation rather than working to control them. As one example, if we have a child who is struggling with entering groups and tends to charge in and destroy things, what method can we come up with that might help them learn the skills needed. Could we ask them to try something new and then sit down with them to play alongside the group they want to join, without ever asking to join (the child who has poor executive functioning will often be told no if she or he asks to join a group)? Soon the child will be playing with the other children, and depending on their play skills you may have to remain and continue to support their involvement, or you may be able to leave. Later we could talk about what had worked and give them another tool (By the way, this may have to be repeated multiple times before it begins to take).

How can I help them learn to evaluate risk and make decisions? Instead of saying, “No that isn’t safe!” could we ask about where they would be landing the jump and do they want to land on that? That can be followed with, “well how could we make it safer.”

Executive functioning can be built better, and if it is, children are likely to be better citizens and parents when their time comes. Join me in trying to learn more about how to do this every day.

References:

  1. Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Poulton, R., Roberts, B. W., Ross, S., Sears, M. R., Thomson, W. M., & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(7), 2693–2698. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1010076108
  2. Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American journal of public health, 105(11), 2283–2290. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630
  3. Heckman, J., Pinto, R., & Savelyev, P. (2013). Understanding the Mechanisms Through Which an Influential Early Childhood Program Boosted Adult Outcomes. The American economic review, 103(6), 2052–2086. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.103.6.2052
  4. Gilliam, W. S. & Shahar, G. (2006). Preschool and child care expulsion and suspension; Rates and predictors in one state. Infants and Young Children, vol. 19, No. 3 p. 228.
  5. Zelazo P. D. (2006). The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS): a method of assessing executive function in children. Nature protocols, 1(1), 297–301. https://doi.org/10.1038/nprot.2006.46
  6. Blair C. (2016). Executive function and early childhood education. Current opinion in behavioral sciences, 10, 102–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.05.009
  7. Rains, Mark. “‘Getting It Together’ Healthy Start Community Forum.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Oct. 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evikiqovSVw.