The symposium was a wonderful opportunity for more than 400 people who work with and on behalf of children, youth and families to learn about social and emotional learning (SEL) and identify ways to help young people thrive. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Roger Weissberg, defined social and emotional learning as a process through which children, youth, and adults learn to recognize and manage emotions, demonstrate care and concern for others, develop positive relationships, make good decisions, and behave ethically, respectfully, and responsibility.
As I reflected on his definition, I thought about why social and emotional learning is important to youth development. I see SEL as a foundation in which a strong sense of self can be built. With that stability, young people are better able to thrive in everyday life, while standing up to social pressures that sometimes knock people down or at diminish their quality of life. SEL can also chart youth on a path of discovering the world in relation to others - by this I mean, where young people learn to cultivate healthy relationships while personally investing in the people around them.
As I reflected on the event, some other insights also resonated with me as a thought about the relationship between SEL and youth development.
Social and emotional skills can be learned
To demonstrate this, Dr. Weissberg showed a video on how math could be taught as a social activity. In the video, the math teacher facilitated a process with students to identify classroom norms that reinforced social and emotional skill building. Those norms were then threaded through every activity in the classroom session.
This teacher was an excellent model. Youth workers could have similar effects in their practice - and probably many do. But what types of professional development are needed for youth workers bolster their skills even more?
Social and emotional learning can improve students' education outcomes
Data from a CASEL meta-analysis reviewed 213 rigorous studies of social and emotional programs in schools nationwide. Findings show that academic achievement and pro-social behavior significantly increase in schools that have such programs while behavioral problems and emotional distress decrease.
After-school programs can play critical roles promoting educational outcomes among students and creating positive school climates. What would be the impact if school and after-school personnel in any given school building operated from complementary educational philosophies that fostered SEL?
Coordinated family, school, and community networks are needed
This multilayered network is needed to both craft and implement social and emotional learning programs so that rings of support surround children and youth throughout the daily life. For instance, without a strong family, it can be very difficult to nurture a solid foundation for development in children and youth because family is the earliest, most basic environment in which we learn. So family is an important part of the network. Coordinating efforts among all the places and peoples that surround children and youth is a tall order but worth it. What would it take in the community you live or work in?
Learning environments are everywhere
They are all around us - homes, farms, schools, recreation centers, sports facilities, clubs, campgrounds, after-school programs, faith-based centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, fields and forests. The list could go on. Each environment has the potential to build and reinforce emotional health and social skills. What can you do to improve the learning environments within your circle of influence?
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