Understanding National SEL Day

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Savannah, a current Possip reporter and former educator, discusses understanding National SEL day, how it benefits students and adults, and how to implement SEL in schools.


SEL (Social Emotional Learning) Day is Friday, March 11th! It gives us a good chance to ask – why should parents or teachers care about “social emotional learning” and what is it?


Understanding National SEL day can be difficult. To begin, the words “social emotional learning” are a mouth full.  The big words can sometimes mask the heart of social emotional learning (SEL).  Simply, it is helping kids know, think, and engage with their feelings, emotions, and relationships.  This year’s theme is, “Finding Common Ground, Pursuing Common Good.” 


What is SEL?


More formally, social and emotional learning is the methodology and practice of learning how to recognize and process the human experience through emotion. Additionally, another important part of SEL is learning how to develop empathy for others. So, as our world is becoming more complex to navigate for students and adults alike, SEL grows in importance – for schools and families.


CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, includes five pillars. These pillars are: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Relationship skills
  • Social awareness. 

While SEL is important within the classroom, it’s equally important in schools, families, and communities as a whole.


Why does SEL matter?


SEL supports a student’s growth.  It also makes schools better, more fair and equitable says CASEL. When schools put communities and relationships first, education can center the people – students and families. Centering people compares to centering results or data. When we look at policies so all students are treated fairly, everyone wins. When curriculum and school lessons are meaningful and relevant, we help students think more deeply and be more self-aware. 


What does the research say?


According to CASEL: Results from a landmark meta-analysis that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that:


  • SEL interventions that address the five core competencies increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points. This is in comparison to students who did not participate.
  • Students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, and an increased ability to manage stress and depression. Also, they had better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.
  • Other data showed the same findings. SEL programs that are well done are good for kids.

What does SEL look like in schools?


The good news about SEL is that there are so many ways to put it in action! However, students get the most out of it when it fits with other programs in school. Here are a few ways to put SEL in action in classrooms:


  • Begin the day with a moment of mindfulness or a check-in.
  • Hold regular class meetings or restorative circles.
  • Model and support student group work.
  • Discuss recent news, and create lessons around topics that allow students an opportunity for reflection.
  • Build SEL vocabulary by teaching students phrases like “I feel” or “What I heard you say was” or “This makes me feel” or “Is this a good time to share this with you?” Or, “How can we learn from one another?” 
  • Choose a space in your classroom where students can go when they need to recharge.
  • Give opportunities for personal and reflective writing without a grade.
  • Invest in an SEL curriculum.

Truthfully, you’re most likely already engaging in SEL activities in your own classrooms, schools, and communities! 

This March, consider using a tool like Possip to promote SEL by engaging with your school community to make sure everyone’s voices are heard. Or, try to implement just one of the suggestions listed above. If your school already actively uses SEL, consider promoting it through your social media to spread awareness!

Our world is a complex place as it is. For this reason, SEL allows students to better understand themselves, empathize with others, and communicate their experiences.