SEL’s Key Components

Social-emotional learning boils down to groups of necessary skills that are often interrelated, interdependent, and—for some—difficult to identify. While this can be tricky, it is critical to identify and address specific skill deficits for our students to continue developing. Without diagnosing the critical need, it is difficult to design or implement a program that will address our students’ needs. Look at the following activity.

Diagnosing the problem

Read the following:

Sÿăí Ú Úáċė ðġı nòýþ.

Can’t do it? Why not? Chances are, the words (or even letters) are completely unfamiliar to you.

How about this?

Gjdoi jhoi anuz kdiw ncio kert pelfor fornsa goer chien. Kesnik coe dnai cnaw cmow dmowme.

Still can’t read it? But the letters are all English graphemes. Why do the words still make no sense?

Try this one:

The Batsmen were merciless against the Bowlers. The Bowlers placed their men in slips and covers. But to no avail. The Batsmen hit one four after another long with an occasional six. Not once did their balls hit their stumps or get caught.

Chances are you could read this one. Can you explain what it means? You might, if you’re familiar with cricket; if not, it might make no sense to you at all.

All of these tasks were difficult in their own way, for completely different reasons that are unique to the individual reading them. The same thing applies to social-emotional skills.

  • A student may be completely unfamiliar with the skill.
  • A student may have bits and pieces of the skill, but be unable to apply them.
  • A student may lack the background knowledge or grasp of context to be able to make connections to the skill, or know when to utilize it.
  • A student may have the capacity to apply the skill in some situations, but not in others (such as when stakes or emotions are high).

Throw in variables like home life, the stress-level of the situation, anxiety levels, hunger, sense of failure, self-esteem, and dozens of others—it’s no wonder teachers struggle to figure out what the problem is!

Areas of focus

Several great organizations have attempted to narrow these widely diverse concepts into more specific fields, with varying levels of success. The one that I find easiest to track is from CASEL, which is a wonderful, free resource linked below.[i] They break these social-emotional skills into five main competencies.

  • Self-Awareness: how we feel about ourselves, interpret our emotions, and what motivates our actions.
  • Self-Management: how we deal with ourselves, express our emotions, and choose our actions.
  • Social Awareness: how we perceive social cues, comprehend norms, and the extent to which we understand the perspective of others.
  • Relationship Skills: How we communicate, cooperate, and relate to the people in our lives, in multiple capacities.
  • Responsible Decision Making: the ability to make appropriate choices based on our own standards/expectations, our sense of safety, and the social norms of the situation.

Each of the core competencies involves a certain set of skills. These can include:

  • Self-Awareness = identifying emotions, verbalizing emotions, self-esteem, body consciousness, boundary consciousness
  • Self-Management = special awareness, use of coping skills, self calming, regulating emotions, managing anxiety, flexibility, adaptability, organization
  • Social Awareness = empathy, perspective-taking, non-verbal communication, understanding norms, identifying violations of norms, anticipating consequences, understanding of context
  • Relationship skills = communication, team work, conflict resolution, conversational skills, respect, involvement, censorship (filtering)
  • Responsible Decision Making = problem solving, prioritizing, appropriate risk taking, understanding of risk-reward relationships, understanding of cause-effect relationships, equitable assessments

Identifying deficient skills can take a lot of trial and error; many of our students cannot effectively communicate what they need or feel. The goal is to try to provide comprehensive resources to all students, and focus intervention when and where the need becomes apparent.

You can find a document here to assess your strengths and weaknesses in the SEL competencies; I found this extremely helpful. It assists in planning, s well as letting me know which areas I needed to be conscious of in my own life. Here you can find a form to help you gauge where your current social-emotional instruction and practices are in your classroom. Both of these resources are also available through the CASEL website, noted below.

Do you have some experience with SEL competencies? Do you have ideas or strategies you’ve found successful? Please share them in the comments!


[i] http://www.casel.org

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