Social/Emotional Learning-SEL and The Impact on Classroom Learning

Author: Sue Musson

Who doesn’t want these skills for their child(ren), in or out of the classroom?

  • Self-Awareness: The ability to reflect on one’s own feelings and thoughts
  • Self-Management (self-control and self-regulation): The ability to control one’s own thoughts and behavior
  • Social Awareness: The ability to empathize with others, recognize social cues and adapt to various situations
  • Relationship Skills: The ability to communicate, make friends, manage disagreements, recognize peer pressure, and cooperate
  • Responsible Decision Making: The ability to make healthy choices about one’s own behavior while weighing the consequences for others


These are the five  Social/Emotional Tenets that researchers state as the most critical social/emotional learning imperatives for effective learning to take place in a classroom, and for an individual to reach his or her full potential.


All schools claim to value these 5 tenets in regard to individual well-being and compassion for others; however, how would those schools answer these questions:

    1. How are we doing (in our educational system) at creating “space” and time in the day to actually teach and practice these skills as part of daily classroom learning?


  • Does Social/Emotional Learning get the same attention, focus and intent as literacy, math or science?
  • More importantly, what is the impact of ignoring these significant life skills?



Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “We as a country, want our kids to achieve academically, but we can’t do this if our kids aren’t emotionally healthy.” Mark T. Greenberg, a professor of Human Development and Psychology at Penn State goes on to state, “It’s not just about how you feel, but how are you going to solve a problem, whether it’s an academic problem or a peer problem or relationship problem…”


Schools that define themselves as progressive and have a whole child focus in their approach and mindset, will naturally be fully engaged in embracing these tenets as part of daily learning.  Virginia Chance School is an example of offering daily attention, time and space to teach and address these important life skills to our young learners.


We make time and space by offering:

  • Soft Starts to the day, allowing learners to ease into the day and enjoying relaxed opportunities with peers that invite cooperation, communication and creativity (21st Century Learning Skills)
  • Morning Meetings and Afternoon Reflection Gatherings  to check the “pulse” of individual learners at the start and end of each day through discussion and various community building activities
  • Classroom Community Meetings to problem-solve, collaborate and communicate needs and wants that impact the entire group – naming a problem and focusing on agreed upon solutions
  • Developing Capable Young People and Positive Discipline language and strategies that are modeled and utilized by teachers and students to help ensure that these 5 tenets are incorporated and honored in a child’s everyday experience.


What an amazing, important and necessary impact on one’s learning journey and future!  


An article called Empathy in the Classroom: Why Should We Care?, by Lauren Owen, Ed.M. at Harvard Graduate School of Education, emphasizes the long-lasting benefits  of teaching Social/Emotional Learning in classrooms with the emphasis on empathy:


  • empathy builds a positive classroom and school culture
  • empathy strengthens a sense of community and deepens relationships with others in a more globalized world
  • empathy prepares young people to be leaders in their communities and beyond


Fostering social and emotional skills not only develop healthy self-reliance, confidence, and healthy risk-taking, but also naturally encourages one to be more actively engaged in learning, while also taking more ownership of one’s learning. These skills and outcomes combined allow one to reach his or her full potential as a learner while bolstering social and emotional competency for life. Intentional Social/Emotional Learning practice in a school setting ensures a healthier adult participating in the larger world.


To better understand the value and importance of intentional teaching and practice of Social/Emotional Learning and these 5 tenets, enjoy the following articles and video:

Teaching Peace in Elementary School, by Julie Scelfo, New York Times –

Empathy in the Classroom: Why Should We Care, Lauren Owen, Ed.M. Harvard Graduate School of Education