Teaching Social & Emotional Learning & Why It’s Important

Practicing important social emotional skills (SEL)—including active listening, expressing gratitude, demonstrating empathy, and being kind—has always been important to teaching and learning.  However, many of us have only recently grasped the role SEL plays – not just in improving student achievement but also students’ short and long-term success, health, and wellness. 

SEL has been proven to promote deeper learning among students, like students’ abilities to solve complex problems in school and life, work collaboratively with others, learn how to learn, and develop sophisticated, academic mindsets. These are skills that students don’t just learn by themselves; they must be taught with the intention and care that we teach all other academic subjects.  

In addition, SEL makes students happier, more resilient, optimistic people who are driven toward success and can enlist the support of others to pursue individual and collective goals.  Indeed, in today’s complex world, every student must be prepared to demonstrate both academic and SEL skills to succeed in school, in college, in the workplace, and as a citizen of our democracy.

Strategies to help kids develop complex SEL skills

Interestingly, many long-practiced instructional techniques can and should be employed in the service of teaching SEL skills, like demonstrating empathy, even though teaching SEL can seem new and different for many teachers.

Some strategies include:

  • Students should be encouraged to interact with complex texts and images to analyze situations and dilemmas that require empathetic responses to solve problems at the heart of those situations.
  • Students should be organized routinely into discussion groups with students of different backgrounds and abilities so they can develop a facility for communicating well with others and understanding different points of view.
  • Students should also routinely be asked to put themselves in someone else’s shoes – this can be done in any academic subject classroom, both in writing and orally – in order to experience others sides of and perspectives on an issue with which they may be grappling.

It’s time for every educator to recognize that teaching important SEL skills is not only essential to students’ success, but also entirely doable as long as we teach it with the same deliberate attention as we generally approach traditional academic subjects, like English Language Arts, mathematics, science, and history.