Learning to work together, manage emotions, and make good choices are just as important for students’ success as academic skills. That’s why many schools incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) into their curriculum.
“SEL is the process where both children and adults develop fundamental social and emotional competencies,” says Bill Stencil, executive director of the Humanware/SEL department in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
According to Stencil, these competencies help us to manage our emotions, achieve goals, empathize with others, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible choices.
He adds Cleveland schools base their SEL curriculum around the five core competencies from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
“All of those things combined really are the underpinnings of what you want to have happen through social-emotional learning,” Stencil says.
In Cleveland, classroom teachers model and promote empathy along with teaching formal SEL curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade. Stencil says that this can help to counter bullying and reduce instances of violence.
A school shooting in 2007 led to increased safety measures in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, including metal detectors, additional security, and an SEL initiative they call Humanware.
“To really make a difference, we need to change attitudes,” Stencil says. “To make our schools safe, we have both hardware and ‘humanware.’”
But remote learning during the pandemic made it difficult to incorporate SEL at a time when students needed it.
“When we were out for remote learning, that was a big empty spot,” Stencil says. “Social skills are just like academic skills — if they’re not used, practiced, or observed, they weaken.”
Out of the Classroom
The Avon Lake Public Library and the Avon and Domonkas branches of the Lorain Public Library System offer SEL kits for families with young children. The libraries began offering these kits in 2021, a year into the pandemic and remote learning for some students.
“The kits include picture books to read aloud, info sheets with local support resources, and games or toys focused on topics like anger, grief, fear, anxiety, mindfulness, and empathy,” says Sybil Wendling, public services manager at Avon Lake Public Library.
But Wendling says that SEL has always been a part of the library’s programs for children.
“Our storytime programs are often the first social experience that a very young child has,” she says. “They learn self-management and social awareness all while listening to stories together.”
Karla Fitch, creative director at Connecting for Kids, encourages parents and caregivers to take advantage of these local resources for families.
“You’ve probably heard that parents and other primary caregivers are their children’s first teachers,” Fitch says. “Teaching social-emotional learning can be as easy as teaching the ABCs when you have the right resources.”
Connecting for Kids offers education and support to families in Northeast Ohio with concerns about their child. Fitch suggests checking out podcasts on their website that cover topics like growth mindset, anxiety, and positive play.
SEL At Home
Stencil adds that parents and caregivers can reinforce SEL at home by modeling and expecting good social-emotional skills.
“We want to build relational trust,” he says. “That’s so important. We want to build in cooperative problem solving — that we don’t do things to people or for them, we do it with them. Model what you expect, choose good attitudes, and be present when people are talking.”
But teaching SEL to your children doesn’t need to be all business. “Celebrate good things,” Stencil says. “An important aspect of social-emotional learning that people don’t always look at is just having fun with each other.”