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Age 3 through 8th grade

The Role of Social Emotional Learning In Uncertain Times

  • CWIL
  • Parenting
  • Teaching and Learning
Mrs. Bernadette Gilmore

We can all agree that 2020 has been an unprecedented year in many ways. No group of people has been unaffected by COVID-19 and its impacts.

Uncertainty is central to the pandemic and it spreads to questions about money, employment, time, education, health, and more.  While children hopefully are not carrying such hefty burdens, they are experiencing their own emotions around it. School has changed, social time is limited or curtailed completely, favored activities are no longer available, screen time has increased and a child’s sense of normalcy is likely somewhat off.

This is the backdrop in which we started the 2020-2021 school year.

While each family may have its own strategy for dealing with their particular set of circumstances, parents should ask what their child’s school is doing to address this ongoing sense of instability. 

For educators, if there ever was a year to focus on Social Emotional Learning, this is it.  The topic of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is not new, but over the past 5-10 years, it has been gaining strong traction in education due to increasing evidence that SEL is a critical aspect of learning and connection with others. As defined by The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.  CASEL’s widely used framework establishes five necessary components. Specifically, they are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision making.  

Interestingly, the research is bearing out that students who participate in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and  better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.  These impacts are long, lasting well beyond school years; a compelling case for prioritizing this in schools.

Parents may not realize that emotions and social relationships have an important impact on learning. Emotions can ignite an active interest in learning and sustain our engagement in it. Conversely, unmanaged stress and poor regulation of impulses interfere with attention and memory. Additionally, we observe that personal relationships are integral to learning. Learning is social and interactive. Through collaboration with peers and educators, including parents, cognitive growth occurs.

“People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but emotion is the reason why we think. Emotion is like the outboard motor that both pushes the cognitive boat and steers it,” says Mary Hellen Immordino-Yang, EdD Director, USC Center for Affective Neuroscience, Development, Learning and Education. 

It is information like this that has led The Independence School to adopt a PreK through 8th-grade SEL program called Second Step with lessons around empathy, managing emotions, problem solving, valuing friendships, managing relationships and social conflict, and more. 

Here is what we know for sure.  The uncertainty about school operations will be with us for months to come. Let’s take the time now to prioritize social and emotional learning in order to give students  a solid ground to stand on during these unusual times.

Bernadette Gilmore is the Director of Academic Innovation at Independence, having previously served as Director of Academics & Curriculum, Head of Lower School and a Kindergarten teacher during her more than two decades with the school. She is also a team member of the Center for Wellness, Innovation and Learning (CWIL™).

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