Research School Network: Right Time, Right Place: proactive approaches to support social emotional learning Considering social emotional learning


Right Time, Right Place: proactive approaches to support social emotional learning

Considering social emotional learning

Donna Brown and Tom Gray from The Exchange Research School at Don Valley Academy consider social emotional learning.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills underpin the positive learning behaviours we need to thrive and succeed in life. They are the building blocks that lay the foundation for improved mental health, behaviour, attitudes, and a range of cognitive abilities.

The evidence summarised in the EEF’s Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools guidance report shows the benefits can be substantial:

good social and emotional skills developed by the age of ten, are predictors of a range of adult outcomes such as life satisfaction and wellbeing, labour market success and good overall health.’

SEL really matters, but unless we are intentional in our approach to teaching these fundamental skills are we leaving too much to chance?

So, should we sharpen our focus on proactive strategies that pre-load our pupils with the SEL skills, and in turn the learning behaviours, they will need to navigate life’s many challenges?

Picking the right moment

We need to be cautious of relying on crisis moments’ for teaching SEL skills when caught in the process of managing misbehaviour or instances of intense emotion.

As a dominant strategy this puts us in danger of children perceiving skills to be solely about avoiding poor behaviour’. It can also set them up for failure; leaving them vulnerable and unprepared for dealing with new or challenging situations.

We wouldn’t expect our pupils to complete a mathematical problem successfully in test conditions without the mastery of the essential knowledge and skills needed to solve it. So why would we expect children to be able to cope with difficult interactions when they have significant gaps in their social emotional learning?

The guidance report explores how the benefits of a planned and explicit SEL curriculum and a consistent whole school approach can further reinforce pupils’ social emotional learning by using teachable moments to embed skills’ in real time.


Using a teachable moment’

An everyday example of this dual approach is reinforcing problem solving skills when a verbal disagreement occurs in the playground over a football game. If pupils have already developed strong SEL skills through the explicit curriculum, they stand a much greater chance of managing their emotions and behaviours to resolve the situation positively.

Explicit teaching of SEL skills and practical ideas

The CASEL model below, illustrates the five core competences which should be the focus of any explicit SEL curriculum and whole school approach.

SEL circle

3 teachable moments you can try tomorrow!

1. Self awareness

Establish a daily emotion check-in when pupils enter the classroom using a chart, cards, journal, mood meter or wheel.

2. Social Awareness

Use the metacognitive technique of self-reflective questioning when discussing scenarios such as What would I have done in that situation?’ You can talk through your approach out loud to model self-regulation.

3. Responsible Decision Making

Present a scenario including a goal to achieve and a problem preventing this. Pupils work together to identify the goal, the barrier, how the person is feeling and possible solutions.

An effectively implemented approach to SEL supports the development of more confident and resilient pupils who are equipped with the knowledge, skills and strategies to deal with life’s ups and downs. By using the dual aspects of a deliberate, explicit SEL curriculum and maximising teachable moments’ we can equip our pupils with the positive learning behaviours they need to thrive and succeed in life.

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