Beyond Academics: Integrating Social & Emotional Learning in the Classroom

Summer is fading fast. It reminds me a little of the small plastic hourglasses that comes with board games like Pictionary. At first, the granules of sand seem to pass through the narrow neck at a glacial pace. When time is almost up, however, the grains began to move at a breakneck pace.

A collective sigh passed through parents’ lips everywhere when the first back-to-school circular appeared in July. We are veterans in this back-to-school exercise, however, as we prepare to send our almost-second grader off to school. School supplies are purchased online as a PTA fundraiser, my kid could care less about clothes, athletic shoes were procured to replace the ones he’s outgrown and his backpack…well, I’m working on it.

I saved an article I came across last year at around this time and finally got around to reading it. It’s called “3 Essential School Supplies—That Aren’t on Your List” and it centers on social and emotional learning. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning (sometimes referred to as SEL)

involves the processes of developing social and emotional competencies in children. SEL programming is based on the understanding that the best learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging, and meaningful; social and emotional skills are critical to being a good student, citizen, and worker; and many different risky behaviors (e.g., drug use, violence, bullying, and dropout) can be prevented or reduced when multi-year, integrated efforts develop students’ social and emotional skills.

Sounds good, right? In fact, a recent study showed that friendships in adolescence were a better predictor of happiness in adults than academic success. The five focuses of SEL are self awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.


The article (which I encourage you to check out) features videos of incredibly wise kids explaining how they have used different tools they learned in school to deal with challenges in their lives. For example, one tool is The Garbage Can Tool. The children explain that if someone calls them a name, they just throw away those feelings and don’t let it bother them. I can think of many adults who could improve at letting things go (myself included).


The stories make it clear that this type of learning helps kids deal with what they might face both inside and outside of the classroom. Along with each video are suggestions on how to introduce the tools to your children and how they can apply them to their lives.

This seems like a perfect time for me to learn more about social and emotional learning and how we might be able to use it to support what my son learns in school. A few years ago, I wrote about an approach to early childhood education called Tools of the Mind, which helps kids build their self-regulation skills, and which really made sense to me. When I managed a peer mentoring program with girls years ago, I was so grateful to see girls learning such important skills as how to build a support network, develop coping skills and how to manage stress. Volunteer after volunteer would exclaim, “I wish this program would have been around when I was a kid!” Reflecting on those memories makes me strengthen my resolve to ensure my son receives these valuable lessons sooner, rather than later.

The good news for us in the Austin school district is that their new Department of Social and Emotional Learning is working with CASEL to implement a district-wide SEL curriculum by the 2015-2016 school year. The video below explains a little how the district has piloted this type of learning and the impact it is having on children and teachers. Although I haven’t heard about anything official in my son’s school yet, and I couldn’t find anything about SEL in surrounding school districts, I’m looking forward to using our time together to continue to build his relationship skills, which I do believe will be increasingly important in the world he is growing up in.

Have you heard anything about social and emotional learning? Would you welcome the introduction of a program like this at your school?

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her newly-minted-7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]



About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

1 Comment on Beyond Academics: Integrating Social & Emotional Learning in the Classroom

  1. I thought this was already normal in schools. We had to do stuff like that in high school as part of our G&T program. My daughter’s private G&T school already has full classes for all age groups in emotional intelligence. It didn’t even occur to me that US public schools weren’t already doing this. Hm.

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