Learning is not confined to academics, it goes beyond that. Children need skills to understand, cope with and manage their emotions. This phenomenon termed as social-emotional learning or SEL is one of the essential skills children need to be successful.
Social emotional competencies support children in effective problem solving, resiliency and character building. Social-emotional learning is the holistic development of young learners. In essence, it strikes the proper balance of skills and competencies needed for positive youth development.
Over the years, there have been a lot of myths related to how children learn. Many believe that children’s ability to absorb information is limited to mechanical and cognitive processes. The truth as many studies now show is that all knowledge is constructive and what a child learns is relational. That is to say, children learn through connections both cognitive and emotional.
Emotional connections drive learning. The whole process is interrelated as children navigate life through a series of interactions. Their ability to make the right connections and behave accordingly can make the difference those who achieve success and those who do not.
This is what makes SEL a substantial and integral part of learning both in school as well as in the after-school setting. But the question is how and why SEL should be taught to children? One word – ‘Empathy’. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others is part of a larger character-building process which incorporates core values. Core values like respect and kindness are not possible without it
Within this framework, teachers play a huge role. To be effective they must first teach their students of the importance of empathy. Then they must provide strategies for students to follow. This involves not only understanding others but also the effective management of one’s own emotions, triggers, coping mechanisms, etc.
For some children, empathy can be a complex concept to grasp, however it is important to teach nonetheless. As it stands Educators have a responsibility toward the next generation to create safe environments and that includes those where empathy is appreciated and acknowledged.
Focusing on empathy is not only best practice within afterschool it is an act of proactive citizenship. To effectively prepare our children for the future, it is critical that focus is paid to creating balanced children, ones who are able to both perform well academically but be able to develop resiliency and grit. At the heart of this philosophy is the understanding that we live in a society where empathy and understanding is not always valued or appreciated resulting in disastrous consequences affecting the entire community.
Empathy is more than a soft skill or behavior characteristic associated with one specific gender. It is a concept whose time has come. It is a trait inborn that can decrease as we get older, however the picture is not all that bleak. Many schools are leading the way incorporating research driven, outcomes proven programs that prove that empathy can be taught with great results. To be effective in the classroom simply requires proper fore thought and planning on the part of instructors and administrators.
Community service projects, encouraging children to engage in meaningful conversation and the like are all examples of activities which support and encourage empathy. As stated previously, such activities also support core values like kindness and respect for all.
All too often social-emotional learning is a concept that many applaud but few understand fully. This is due in many cases to lack of proper training that focuses on concrete every day strategies. As a result, true implementation falls short. Additionally, staff who lack this trait themselves are unable to be fully productive in this regard.
As educators we owe it to our children to provide them with strategies to support their social emotional learning. To that end, below are some suggested ideas and techniques.
A number of studies have proven that SEL not only contributes to personality development, but cognitive development as well. As simplistic as it is, children who are affective at managing their emotions as well as exercising mindfulness tend to have healthier relationships and greater academic success. One program that has achieved success in this area is The RULER program from the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence.
Here is how it you can incorporate empathy into your lesson plans.
Social-emotional learning is a critical skill that promotes emotional health. Teaching empathy to children can help students develop and maintain a healthy emotional relationship with the outer world. Ultimately this is not just good for education but for our world.