: We need a shared language for social and emotional learning Social and emotional learning


We need a shared language for social and emotional learning

Social and emotional learning

by Town End Research School
on the

First things first, what is social and emotional learning (SEL)? Different organisations – including Ofsted and the DfE – use overlapping terms and definitions. Even within the same school, the range of languages can be vast. Examples include emotional intelligence, social skills, mental health, wellbeing, character education, resilience development, bullying prevention, non-cognitive skills, mindfulness, life skills, behaviour management, personal development, Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development and Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education… this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Fewer words and shared definitions that are consistently used by all stakeholders can revitalise and refocus visions, values and commitments, whilst further cultivating positive learning behaviours.

It matters that we have a shared language to discuss these important ideas so that we can have meaningful professional conversations. A shared and common language enables clear and consistent communication both internally between staff and pupils and externally with services, governors, parents and carers.

Fewer words and shared definitions that are consistently used by all stakeholders can revitalise and refocus visions, values and commitments, whilst further cultivating positive learning behaviours.

My preferred definition is that SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.’ This is the definition chosen by the EEF in the Social and Emotional Learning guidance report due to its wide use internationally. With this definition in mind, it is impossible for me to see SEL as an add-on or a standalone event.

It should be the vital thread woven into the fabric of the school day, integrated into school policies, involving the wider school community and clearly underpinning whole-school priorities. The SEL framework fosters knowledge, skills, and attitudes across five core competencies and their associated skills (see graphic). These competencies promote educational equity and excellence and have been linked to a range of positive outcomes, as described in the EEF report. They are:

Social and emotional learning
  • self-awareness
  • self-management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision making

These resources are especially welcome given the additional expectations placed on schools. In 2019, personal development became one of the four key judgements that Ofsted makes when inspecting schools. From September 2020, schools are required by the DfE to teach health and relationships education to prepare pupils for life in this complex world. Teaching SEL well is key to fulfilling these additional responsibilities. This all sounds great and necessary but these additional expectations pose difficulties. Time is often cited as the biggest barrier to the effective implementation of SEL. Increased pressures for academic outcomes in core subjects often means that time is tight as we focus our attention on ensuring that pupils are numerate, literate and are experiencing a broad and balanced curriculum. Inevitably, COVID magnifies these challenges.

Modules - 1st February 2024 9:15am - 3:30pmin-person

Social and emotional learning

Laying foundations for positive behaviour, mental health and academic achievement.
Tickets from: £295
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Modules - 1st February 2024 9:15am - 3:30pmin-person

Social and emotional learning

Laying foundations for positive behaviour, mental health and academic achievement.
Tickets from: £295
Network Settings
Read more aboutSocial and emotional learning

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