Feelings are Tough. SEL Can Help.


social emotional learningThere have been a lot of Big Feelings around our house this year: rage, sadness, joy, and confusion, among others.

The kids have been emotional, too.  

More and more Iowa schools are recognizing these feelings and the need to explicitly and systematically address them in the classroom. Enter Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  You will likely see this acronym in communications from your children’s teachers or school administrators in the future if you haven’t already.

What is SEL?

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”  The Iowa Department of Education has adopted the CASEL framework for implementing SEL and much of this work is showing up in the classroom.

Research suggests that when people are better able to identify and manage their emotions, they are more successful by every measure: they have healthier relationships, they make more money, they contribute to a greater good, and they’re happier. 

What does SEL look like?

School districts in Iowa are not required to include SEL work and it will look different in every building. It might look like deep breathing exercises during PE or end-of-day reflections on what went well during the math lesson or other work to develop mindfulness.  

SEL encompasses a range of skills and activities but ultimately is geared toward at least one of these five central competencies (I’ve included personal experiences to illustrate each one):

  1. Self-Awareness: Sometimes (many times) I feel angry. Which underlying issue caused it today? Is it our children, politics, or the way my body seems to be completely failing me the closer I get to age 40?
  2. Self-Management: How can I address this anger? How many pages of my current romance novel do I need to read to soothe the rage before taking action to remove it? Does excess carb consumption get rid of the anger or just make me tired? And angrier?
  3. Social Awareness: Who else is feeling angry? What are they doing about it and are there ways I should help them? Would spending more time on social media make it better and why is the answer always no? 
  4. Relationship Skills: Why does my husband think anger is clouding my communication skills? How can I redirect the anger so he doesn’t feel like my target all the time?  It’s not actually his fault the boys can’t hit the toilet bowl, even if he is a man.
  5. Responsible Decision-Making: How is anger affecting my judgment and negatively impacting my decision-making process for the family? Upon reflection, perhaps that dinner of Bugles and cheese sticks wasn’t our best option, no matter how mad I was at the kitchen-where-my-life’s-purpose-goes-to-die.

I mentioned I was feeling Big Feelings.

Learning to Be OK

There is much more to SEL than my incomplete examples, and you can find the details offered by the Iowa Department of Education here.  

Educators have always been aware of their students’ feelings. That isn’t new. However, the SEL framework provides a common language for addressing these feelings and administrative support for including it in daily lessons.

So if you see SEL pop up in your kids’ school updates, or you overhear it on the virtual lesson, or your child suggests you walk away and take a deep breath, rest assured. The kids are learning how to be OK.

We could all use some help learning how to be OK.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here