What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively. (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, CASEL). Social and emotional skills are most effectively promoted in the context of a safe and supportive school, family, and community. SEL is fundamental not only to children’s social and emotional development, but also to their health, ethical development, citizenship, motivation to learn, and academic learning. Learn more in this short video, Five Keys to Social and Emotional Learning.

Why is SEL important for your child's learning?

Student success depends not only on academic achievement, but on what is considered “the other side of the report card,” or those skills that reflect the student’s ability to manage himself and interact successfully with others. These skills also align with those that many employers today call the necessary 21st century skills: communication skills, creative thinking, problem solving, and personal management which includes goal-setting, self-motivation, cooperation and leadership. SEL helps students develop the ability to manage themselves and interact successfully with others while creating a safe and supportive environment in which all children learn to their greatest capacity.

What social and emotional skills are important for children to develop?

Five areas of social and emotional competency that can be taught are:

  • Self-awareness —accurately assessing one’s feelings, interests, values, and strengths; maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence.
  • Self-management —regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, control impulses, and persevere in overcoming obstacles; setting and monitoring progress toward personal and academic goals; expressing emotions appropriately.
  • Social awareness —being able to take the perspective of and empathize with others; recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences; recognizing and using family, school, and community resources.
  • Relationship skills —establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation; resisting inappropriate social pressure; preventing, managing, and resolving interpersonal conflict; seeking help when needed.
  • Responsible decision-making —making decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and likely consequences of various actions; applying decision-making skills to academic and social situations; contributing to the well-being of one’s school and community.

What does a socially and emotionally skilled student “look” like?

These students have self-confidence, resilience and hopefulness, impulse control, sensitivity and empathy, the ability to resist social pressure and avoid violent and risky behaviors, and the capacity to contribute to the well-being of their schools, families, and communities. These are ideal goals that develop as we grow up. In D181 it is our strong academic curriculum supported by social and emotional learning which helps students develop and practice skills that will contribute to their personal growth and success in school and in life.

How s SEL a part of the school day?

All District 181 schools and grade levels address the IL SEL Goals through a combination of classroom discussions, integration within academic areas, and school-wide activities. Teachers use multiple resources, including lessons from Lions-Quest (http://www.lions-quest.org/) and other programs to establish a positive classroom culture, teach collaboration skills, prevent and address bullying, and help students develop personal skills such as goal-setting and self-reflection. School-wide activities provide students opportunities to practice their skills by planning and executing service projects, participating in school leadership groups, assemblies, and cultural arts programs. This approach makes apparent the schools’ values about positive behavior, inclusiveness, fairness, and caring for others.

What kind of topics are addressed in SEL?

For any classroom to run smoothly, teachers must provide routines, communicate expectations, and give guidance for individual and collaborative learning. Activities that promote personal and social skills and teach students strategies to focus, self-regulate, and resolve conflict can go a long way in creating a classroom conducive to learning. In this sense, SEL is a pro-active approach and many teachers are explicit in teaching their students ways they can be successful as individuals and as a class. Our teachers use a variety of resources to teach SEL, from programs such as Lions-Quest and Second Step, to tried-and-true classroom management techniques such as class meetings, brain breaks, I-messages, and problem-solving processes.

When problems arise, such as conflict between students, teachers often use “teachable moments” to encourage students to reflect on the situation and their feelings, learn from mistakes, and consider and try solutions. Recess and lunchtime are often a proving ground for students to practice their social and emotional skills, learn when to compromise, self-advocate, and if necessary, get help.

Prevention lessons are a part of SEL across the grades and include topics such as preventing and responding to bullying, growing up drug-free (DARE and Lions-Quest), understanding peer pressure, making healthy choices (Robert Crown Center and Health class in middle school), responding to feelings of depression (Erika’s Lighthouse in middle school), and recognizing child sexual abuse (Erin’s Law). While each of these topics has specific content, they are all rooted in the fundamental social and emotional skills which are necessary to prepare students for the complex situations and problems they encounter while growing up.

All schools in District 181 place emphasis on preparing students to be good citizens by focusing on characteristics such as respect, responsibility, excellence, and caring for others. Parents, the PTOs, D181 Foundation, club leaders, and others give students opportunities to contribute to their schools and communities in myriad ways.

All together, social and emotional skill development and practice, pro-active information about risk-taking behaviors, and learning from mistakes in the presence of caring adults in a supportive community provide most students with the skills they need to learn and be successful in their lives.

What kinds of issues does SEL address?

Our teachers and support staff strive to create an overall positive school climate, and model positive social skills. Yet behaviors like bullying and risk-taking cannot always be prevented. Through SEL, students have the opportunity to learn problem solving and decision-making skills as well as an awareness of others. When individual students need more support than is provided through classroom learning, help is available through the district’s social workers, counselors, and other staff.

How can SELAS help parents?

Knowing the kinds of skills that are fundamental to school and life success helps families support this learning at home. Your child’s teachers are important partners who can help you discern and support your child’s strengths and needs.

Information and ideas from SELAS are shared regularly in the district’s e-News. Your child’s principal and teachers are able to give you information about opportunities at school that your child may want to participate in. When the concepts taught at school are backed up at home and vice versa, children learn even more effectively. SELAS, the Family Resource Network (FRN), and the Community Speaker Series provide many opportunities for families to learn about child development and education. These SELAS webpages, particularly SEL@Home give specific, practical ideas for using SEL at home.

How can parents/adults help? Model, mentor, and monitor…

SEL is most effectively taught when it is modeled by teachers and parents. One way to do this is to consider how well they have mastered the five social and emotional competencies that are taught to children (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision-making skills). Adult behavior goes a long way in transmitting expectations and skills to children.

Parents can reinforce the curriculum and mentor their children by explaining to them that the lessons and skills are important, just as important as math and reading, for instance. The lessons can help children learn how to get along, see other’s viewpoints, set goals, deal with challenges and disappointments, and so on. This kind of learning can help everyone in daily lives, school work, and later in careers. Children should know that parents value these social emotional skills and support the school in helping to teach them.

Parents can also support their children’s social emotional learning by (1) being attentive to how their children are acquiring these important life skills at school, at home, and in the community, (2) being good listeners to their children, (3) letting children attempt to solve their problems by not solving them immediately for them, and (4) making sure the bonds their children are forming with others promote the values that are important to the family by getting to know the families of their friends.

Parents monitor children’s academic growth by understanding the expectations of the school and being attentive to their child’s academic performance. Monitoring children’s social and emotional growth involves being aware of children’s normal developmental stages, setting appropriate limits and being disciplined in keeping them, and communicating with other adults who share the child’s social environment, such as teachers, parents, and neighbors.

All together, by modeling, mentoring, and monitoring children, adults help them understand expectations and values, and provide essential adult relationships for every child.

How are our teachers trained to teach social and emotional learning?

In 2004-2005, the District adopted the Lions-Quest program with input from a large committee of teachers, administrators, and parents. All teachers in the district were trained during two days to teach the Lions-Quest curriculum. A second district-wide training occurred in 2008 to equip all new teachers and administrators with the skills and understanding to deliver Lions-Quest lessons in the classroom.

A teacher and social worker became certified as trainers of Lions-Quest in 2009 and provide ongoing Lions-Quest training for the district. In subsequent years, they trained the district’s instructional aides and support staff as well as new teachers to the district.

In 2008, all teachers attended a half-day training which focused on bullying prevention through the development of awareness, tolerance, relationship skills, conflict resolution, anger management, and self advocacy. At all grades, a focused unit on bullying is a regular part of classroom lessons and discussions.

While Lions-Quest continues to be used by some teachers for regular lessons, it is not the only teaching resource used in the district. Nevertheless, Lions-Quest training has provided staff with fundamental understanding of the pedagogy and content for teaching social and emotional skills in general and many teachers have created ways to integrate the lessons into academic areas in order to increase their relevance.

Each fall since 2014, all new teachers have attended a workshop to introduce them to social emotional learning in District 181. In recent years, Institute Days have included team building activities and book discussions related to SEL. In 2017-18, a plan will be developed to consistently provide SEL at all schools, including materials and professional development. Principals will be engaged in staff discussions about teaching strategies that support SEL.