Social-Emotional Learning empowers children to manage their own behavior in positive and productive ways, shifting control to the child.
This counters the “compliance model” widely used in U.S. schools, where adults hold all the power in classrooms and children are passive participants, not drivers of their own development and learning.
Being active in their own development is fundamental to children’s Emotional Intelligence learning, along with acquiring the ability to manage one’s emotions. Managing one’s emotions is hardly a given for a large segment of the population that, without this learning, is beset with remarkably high numbers of people suffering from anxiety or depression, anger issues, or high degrees of interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide.
In fact, most of us experience more emotional upsets and their consequences than we would prefer – in relationships, work, friendships, and in the everyday course of life.
This may be good for the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies and therapists but is hugely costly in infinite ways to the common good and to the pocketbook of the society as a whole.
Neuroscience readily supports the positive effects of Social-Emotional Learning. Emotional reactions have been found to reside in the primordially-earlier lower brain around the amygdala while more sophisticated learning, thinking, and creativity occur in the later-in-evolution frontal lobes or “higher brain.” Brain scans show that when the lower brain is activated by emotional upset it lights up while the higher brain literally goes dark in activity.
The implications for students can’t be overstated – all learning stops while students are emotionally agitated, with their minds either distracted or full of negative thoughts about themselves, others or the situations they are in. (Read more about Neuroscience.)
Conversely, academic learning takes place on a rapid scale once students are taught to manage their emotions and responses. Surveys of student and teacher satisfaction often soar into the 90 percentile after a school prioritizes Social-Emotional Learning.
An important note: Social-Emotional Learning should not be confused with what educators call “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS),” a widely implemented system based on “carrot-like” tangible rewards.
Moreover, in uninformed reports, some EQ goals and subset practices are mistakenly taken for the entire complex of EQ learnings students experience. Examples are “violence prevention,” “anti-bullying,” “grit,” “resilience,” “mindfulness” and “growth mindset” practices – the latter a training to be able to take on challenges and failures as normal and educational in themselves rather than as obstacles and defeats.
One other note: Education is littered with competing terms for Social-Emotional Learning, among them “emotional literacy,” “non-cognitive education,” “character education,” and “ethical and moral development.” By whatever name, schools adopting such learning should include the core competencies explained here and their goal should be the other term popular with educators: “Whole Child Development.”