Frequently Asked Questions
Emotional Intelligence or EQ means having the personal and interpersonal skills to manage yourself, your feelings, relationships, career and life in the most effective and healthy way possible. It’s a set of skills that children can begin learning at any age.
Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, PhD explains, “Too often, we tend to think of our kids as unsophisticated and incapable of processing or understanding the emotional complexities of their world. We think we’re protecting them by not bringing up the trickier, less pleasant subjects. When you teach kids emotional intelligence, how to recognize their feelings, understand where they come from, and learn how to deal with those emotions, you teach them the most essential skills for their success in life.”
Social-Emotional Learning is how Emotional Intelligence is taught in schools. It’s the approach educators have created to teach the mindsets and skills that develop emotional intelligence, high-order thinking and social skills in students. (In some school districts a similar set of skills is called Character Development.)
Among the larger set of interpersonal skills students learn are those of collaboration, conflict resolution, personal goal setting, taking initiative, problem solving, self-confidence, responding to others with empathy and compassion, as well as making good choices, and communicating effectively. Many SEL programs also expand student creativity and critical thinking.
The skills of communicating well and getting along with others are very important, and can be improved with practice, because according to researchers at The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “Emotions drive learning, decision-making, creativity, relationships, and health.”
Research shows that measurable SEL benefits include higher grades, improved attendance and graduation rates; along with often dramatically lower rates of bullying, violence, discipline incidents, substance abuse, digital addiction, self-harm and suicide.
Studies show that when students develop high levels of emotional intelligence, they improve their emotional states, their relationships, and their learning capacity.
“The idea that schools might be responsible for addressing the mental and emotional health of their students has become mainstream over the past decade,” said Jessica Hoffmann, a research scientist and the director of high school initiatives at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
But it’s increasingly becoming a responsibility that school leaders say they feel they must shoulder if they are going to help students achieve academic success. A common term in education circles is developing “the whole child” – a statement that at essence supports that humans have many capacities and strengths and require learning that develops those beyond their ability to get good grades. Schools that develop these other skills experience higher student grades as students become more focused and self confident and less concerned with peer pressures.
Research studies have found that the SEL experience leads to higher rates of later success, happiness, resilience, improved mental health and physical wellbeing in life.
The evidence also indicates that, when comprehensively adopted in a student’s schools, the SEL experience reduces the amounts and degrees of adult personal dysfunction, violence, crime, addiction, homelessness, financial exploitation, sexual and child abuse, racism, social injustice, human rights abuses, and authoritarianism.
“We try to show them (students) that emotions are coming in the door whether you want them or not,” Jessica Hoffmann, a research scientist and the director of high school initiatives at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, said. “There’s still in our society in many places an expectation that you can leave your emotions at the door and be a robot and it’s simply not true. Not only is that not true, but your emotions can actually enhance your learning and the kind of innovative things you do in science or math or art.”
SEL has been thoroughly and rigorously researched for more than three decades, including multiple randomized control trials and longitudinal studies. Schools and universities, nonprofits, governmental agencies, and private companies have contributed to the research base.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education recommends that educators take a whole-school approach, involving every student and every adult in every part of the building, including the SEL needs of staff, with support from administrators and school leaders.
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison explains, “Social-emotional learning is an empirically verified strategy to improve skills of emotion regulation and social adaptation and, as such, social-emotional learning likely produces beneficial changes in the brain. Education that shapes the child’s brain and likely produces these kinds of alterations lay the foundation for all future learning for emotion regulation and for social functioning. Qualities such as patience, calmness, cooperation and kindness should really be regarded as skills that can be trained. They are not traits that we are irrevocably given by our early environment or by our genetics but everything we now know about the brain, including down to the level of gene expression, indicates that training like social and emotional learning can shape the brain and literally change gene expression in the brain.”
Our role is to inform and activate parents, businesses, major public sector leaders – and the public itself – to support and adopt SEL programs on their proven merits. We know that a one percent increase in the adoption rate of SEL in the U.S. would result in 400,000 more school-age kids developing stronger emotional intelligence, with all the related benefits. We also support the advocacy work of 21 state grassroots organizations representing thousands of educators. Collectively, we are much like the STEM education movement of the past dozen years.
Many schools combine SEL and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula because they have a uniquely beneficial relationship. Teachers with SEL training serve as facilitators and design opportunities to collaborate on STEM projects together. The collaborative nature of learning, particularly in the area of robotics, makes the combination of STEM and SEL particularly viable.
No. Teaching SEL is motivated solely by a desire for better learning environments and improved outcomes for children and society at large. When children do better in school, they’ll do better in life. As they do, the quality of our collective lives will improve along with the wisdom and effectiveness of our institutions.
Far from being divisively political, SEL creates collaborative problem solvers.
Kristina Scully, teacher, curriculum designer and author of the website, The Pathway 2 Success, explains that SEL is not one curriculum or program. It’s a process for helping kids acquire important life skills. “The truth is that the idea of teaching and supporting social and emotional skills in the classroom is not anything new. For years teachers have been helping kids learn how to work with others, develop meaningful friendships, work towards goals, and make good choices.”
There is no connection between SEL and Critical Race Theory, despite what some people might assert. In fact, SEL has nothing to do with CRT, which is a curriculum primarily used in very few law schools, not in K-12 education.
According to Saroja Warner from WestEd, a research and educational service organization, CRT is a college-level academic theory and framework that identifies race as a social construct rather than a biological fact and attributes the prevalence of racism in American society not primarily to individual bias or prejudice, but to its institutionalization in governmental systems, policies, and legal structures.
The benefit of SEL is that it effectively teaches collaborative mindsets and skills that reduce student hostilities, lead to better school performance and happier student bodies. The Center for Law and Policy has published research clarifying that falsely tying SEL to CRT and therefore eliminating SEL threatens the health and well-being of students – particularly indigenous, people of color and LGBTQIA+ students. It does so by removing the potential of a mutually supportive SEL school culture. Some schools will continue with an alienating culture and even criminalize certain behaviors.
Many schools, including many that have not yet incorporated SEL in their curriculum, do have separate programs of various types that deal with a range of diversity issues.
The Social Emotional Learning Alliance for the United States represents 21 independent state organizations of educators and program providers focused on implementing and promoting SEL. The states in the alliance represent more than 60 percent of the national population, including six of the ten most populous states.
The Collaborating States Initiative is a group of states that share information, best practices, and promising tools and ideas in the interest of building strong SEL in schools across their states. Twenty-six states have applied to join the collaborative.
WestEd maintains SEL profiles on each state.
To date only three states have established state social emotional learning standards that span all grade levels: Illinois, West Virginia, and Kansas.
Social and emotional concerns such as anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, and isolation derail learning just like being hungry in class does. Schools provide nutrition programs to help kids meet their basic needs to thrive and focus on learning. The same logic applies for social and emotional concerns.
SEL programs teach students to develop skills in self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal relationships to better prepare them for success in school, work and life.
Success in school and life is about more than grades. Kids also need the personal and interpersonal skills to thrive in relationships, work settings, and the broader community.
There’s currently a youth mental health crisis in the United States, including a rise in youth suicide–even elementary school aged students Learning Emotional Intelligence skills can help strengthen mental health.
An April 2022 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences — shows that 44% of teens feel “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.”
According to previous CDC data, this is an increase from around 26% in 2009 and 37% in 2019. The startling data demonstrate how a growing youth mental health crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Surgeon General Murthy, who declared a formal Youth Mental Health Crisis in December, has called for rapid expansion of SEL in all schools to teach students how to manage their emotional and mental states, reclaim their capacity for learning (for many now at a troubling low-point) and gain crucial life skills for success.
The best approach is to talk with school board members, teachers, principals, and the administrators of your child’s school district and ask them to adopt a comprehensive approach to SEL in the curriculum.
After-school programs sponsored by schools and child-centered organizations are also a good place to start. There are ample resources available to help plan and raise funds to create your school’s program.
No. SEL can be taught and integrated with academic subjects, as well as sports, music, visual arts, dance, theater, and after-school programs.
SEL creates a safer, happier school climate and typically raises academic achievement and prepares students for more rigorous studies.
Eric Baylin, a photography teacher, learned first-hand that when emotions drive learning, abstract concepts become less difficult to teach and understand. Students learn and understand that emotions, thinking and learning are inseparable, and necessary part of problem solving.
According to USC Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, “We feel, therefore we learn.” Her video The Neuroscience of Social and Emotional Learning explains the neuroscience of SEL.
Teachers learn SEL approaches through teacher training programs, professional development programs, and continuing education courses. Plenty of research-based professional development and curricula exist.
Some teachers choose SEL as a masters-level specialty.
Many schools and districts have SEL specialists, counselors and coaches to support students and teachers.
You can always talk with your kid’s teachers and schools about SEL.
Home is the primary place for children to learn and practice EQ skills. As a parent or guardian, you can create an environment of trust, respect and support, and raise a child who is self-aware, makes responsible decisions, manages their emotions and learns to resolve conflicts.
Here are general tips:
- Take care of yourself, even when it feels like the last thing you can do right now.
- Simply being present and connected with your kids, enjoying them, helps.
- Engaging in creative activities like crafts, music, sports and games support that connection.
- Help you child express and name emotions, especially feelings that are confusing to them.
- Some SEL activities focus on specific skills and age groups. Using these depends on your family’s needs.
For more ideas:
In his research Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who popularized the term Emotional Intelligence, found that EQ accounts for 90 percent of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar.
Emotional Intelligence is the employability skill business increasingly seek in their workforce. Beyond academic or domain knowledge, including STEM, personal, interpersonal, and organizational skills are vital to employees in order to succeed in the workplace.
Increasingly, business need a workforce that’s strong on personal and interpersonal skills as well as curiosity, empathy, imagination, purpose, and motivation. Those characteristics don’t start at the first day on the job. They are learned at home and in school.
STEM support is important, but it only applies to some students and some jobs. Emotional Intelligence helps all children and all jobs.
Teaching SEL removes barriers to STEM learning (and other learning).
Svetlana Whitener from Forbes magazine writes, “The reason a high degree of emotional intelligence is increasingly valued and sought-after by employers and individuals is that it has such a deep impact on everything a person does. It’s a way of thinking and acting that allows one to be more aware and understanding of all those around him or her, leading to better and more beneficial actions and interactions.”
Accenture, a global professional services company explains: “Leading companies—Google, Gartner and Microsoft—have already identified psychological safety as the key element to unlocking team potential. Our own Accenture research shows that when employees are net better off, they are 5 times more likely to experience increased performance at work. And when performance is high, innovation follows.”
There is good reason why the Business Round Table and The National Network of Business and Industry Associations are supporting SEL-like trainings. Among other beneficiaries are Google, Allstate, Pepsico and the U.S Airforce.
- Let your local school board, administrators and parents know that your business supports a comprehensive SEL curriculum in all PreK-12 classrooms because it would improve educational outcomes for all students and improve the workforce and community.
- Promote Emotional Intelligence in your social media and cause marketing.
- Support SEL-related nonprofits in your sponsorship marketing efforts.
- Fund SEL-related nonprofits through your charitable giving.
We can provide your company with free, customized resources, including customer-attracting messaging and free webinars for your parenting employees and customers featuring parents who are SEL experts and whose children benefitted greatly from SEL in their schools. To learn more about EQ and SEL and become part of the movement. Email contact@EQuipOurKids.org.
As more students with SEL experience move into the labor pool, you have access to more qualified candidates with the skills to become the curious, motivated, collaborative, and resilient staff that every business needs. Research shows that your labor and benefit costs will decrease and your productivity and profits increase.
As you align your brand and promotion with support for increase Emotional Intelligence and SEL, you’ll gain the notice and appreciation of the millions of parents, grandparents, and educators across the country.
You can also win more appreciation and loyalty by supporting SEL in your operating communities – and develop more local SEL-trained talent. The National League of Cities suggests that municipal leaders can ensure that social and emotional skills are honed by capitalizing on the informal learning environments where young people spend time. Along with traditional school hours, afterschool and summer learning programs are excellent opportunities for implementing effective SEL learning because of its ability to foster trusting relationships with adults and peers and be more flexible than the regular school day.
Most youth development programs aim to create a general feeling of support. But a new study shows that the more youth programs intentionally include SEL skills, the easier it is to align outcomes with expectations.
To repeat: We can provide your company with free, customized resources, including customer-attracting messaging and free webinars for your parenting employees and customers featuring parents who are SEL experts and whose children benefitted greatly from SEL in their schools. To learn more about EQ and SEL and become part of the movement, email contact@EQuipOurKids.org.