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Ways of Being: A social and emotional learning model

kate-walker.jpgTo make sense of the emerging field of social and emotional learning (SEL), we developed a model we call Ways of Being. It paints a picture of the whole social and emotional learner, describing the attitudes, skills, and behaviors that exist within a person who is socially and emotionally competent.

The model describes dynamic, interactive ways of being that exist in three layers -- identity, awareness, and navigation and three dimensions -- ways of feeling, ways of relating to others, and ways of doing.

We developed the model out of conversations with thought leaders who recognized the need for a teaching tool that could equip practitioners, parents, and youth with a shared conceptual understanding of social and emotional learning. We built upon a variety of frameworks that name and organize the skills and areas of social and emotional learning. Our model places more emphasis on how an individual's identity shapes who they are as social and emotional learner. We also place greater emphasis on the doing or task-oriented aspects of social and emotional learning, in part because they are often a focus of out-of-school time programs.

The dimensions represented in the Ways of Being model are ways of feeling, ways of relating, and ways of doing:
  • Ways of Feeling. This includes all the skills, experiences, and capacity a person has to identify and make sense of their own emotions. Researchers use terms like self-awareness, self-management, intrapersonal skills, emotional competence, and self-regulation. Practitioners might also include concepts and skills like being reflective, confidence, emotional maturity, or self-control.
  • Ways of Relating. This includes the skills youth need to understand and navigate their interactions with others and develop relationships. Social awareness, relationship skills, interpersonal skills, or social skills all fit easily into this area. Practitioners might also include empathy, connectedness, belonging, and caring.
  • Ways of Doing. This includes skills to approach tasks and achieve goals. This area has drawn significant attention from researchers and leaders in the field. Think of terms like growth mindset, mastery orientation, and responsible decision-making. Practitioners work to support the development of grit and perseverance, along with the skills of goal-setting, critical thinking, planning for success, and resilience.
The Ways of Being model shows three layers that develop through social and emotional learning -- identity, awareness, and navigation:
  • Ways I Am. Identity includes the attitudes and beliefs youth have about themselves in relation to their feelings, relationships, and goals. You might think of sense of character, agency, motivation, hope, self-efficacy, or even cultural identity.
  • Ways I am Aware. Cultivating awareness of one's feelings, other people's needs and emotions, and goals informs youths' sense of self, as well as their ability to effectively navigate ways of feeling, relating, and doing. Skills like self-awareness, social awareness, and goal-setting all exist in this layer.
  • Ways I Navigate. Youth use navigation skills to determine how to manage their emotions, interact with others, and overcome challenges to meeting their goals. Navigation skills include things like self-management, self-regulation , problem solving, time management, teamwork, and conflict resolution.
The Ways of Being model can be used in many ways to increase intentional support of social and emotional learning, but we recommend starting with three specific applications. Use the model to:

  1. Start a conversation about social and emotional learning
  2. Align the tools that you are already using, and
  3. Identify areas where you can improve the intentional support of social and emotional learning.
To read more about the Ways of Being model, please check out this issue brief. We'd love to know what you think of it. What works for you, and what doesn't? How might you use the model in your work?

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.
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  1. This is a great step forward in clarifying SEL so that it is both useful and actionable. If we could provide a range of communication tools about the framework, and tools and processes to measure these constructs, we will know where to focus energy. Thanks Kate!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Beki, and stay tuned! Next up is an issue brief (currently under review) that outlines specific strategies to intentionally support SEL. These include ways to equip staff, create learning environments, design learning experiences, and use data for improvement. It also has a SEL program readiness inventory – a short tool to help programs think about their strengths and areas for improvement related to SEL. There is a host of existing outcomes measures (e.g., SAYO, HSA, DESSA, MHALabs). We’re working on a study that looks across various tools to draw lessons about how youth programs and systems use SEL data for improvement.

  3. Thanks Kate for getting the latest model out there for people to think about. Just want to add that we are now working with young people to create a way for them to talk about SEL using the Ways of Being model. We are asking them to tell us about their WOBs! We have created a web site where young people can do surveys as well as a Twitter address for young people (@Y_WOB) to comment. We are hoping this will bring youth voice more strongly into the conversations just as our surveys of educational and out of school time leaders did! Check them out and watch as youth begin engaging with the site in the coming weeks.
    Dale Blyth

  4. Thanks, Dale! Yes, please encourage young people to visit the website to share their perspectives on social and emotional learning! How important are WOBs to you?

  5. This model really breaks the monolithic concept of SEL down well into comprehensible and actionable chunks. As a youth worker, I find the connections between tasks, activities and external demonstration of SEL skills very helpful in thinking about how I would support SEL in my programs.

  6. Thank you for creating such high-quality resources in this important but sometimes messy area of education. I work with schools in the UK to help them address students' needs around behaviour and relationships - applying a restorative approach. The information from here has been invaluable and I will be sharing it via my Twitter feed - @tjbevington - with professionals and researchers on this side of the world.

  7. Gj Kate, an effective SEL program should be incorporated primary schools where students learn social and emotional skills.


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