Social Emotional Learning as the Key to Quality Education in our Schools

The primary objective of education is to cultivate critical thought and sensitivity among students. Can we achieve this?

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year March 27th is celebrated as International SEL (Social Emotional Learning) Day. Schools these days don’t think about the SEL of teachers. One must be thinking, what is SEL? Why is it important to start thinking about the social and emotional well being of teachers? Why is it the need of the hour to talk about SEL? 

Many of us have experienced school education to be competitive, stressful, punitive and might have even faced school refusal at some point. Being caught up in the rat race to be successful academically and professionally often makes us go against our very nature, rather than bringing out our innate altruism. Education systems around the world are realising the need to implement social and emotional learning as a key component to build a more peaceful and compassionate world. Social-emotional learning in the context of school-related teaching and outcomes can be understood as the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that allow teachers to manage themselves, as well as their relationships with others. It also consists of mental well being and maintain a work-life balance. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence form a major part of SEL programmes, thus helping us become more empathetic and compassionate.

Taking an example, I was a teacher, teaching 60 students from grade 4. In the beginning, I used to plan and look for resources to conduct the classes. I wrote my lesson plan in a notebook daily. But the students were not ready to learn and used to fight among themselves. It was a tough task to connect with the children and I was not aware of the context or their background. It made me frustrated and demotivated. Despite planning daily and using teaching-learning materials like charts, audiovisual aids, the connection was not established in class with the students. It made me feel alone and depressed as the class was not going well. Even though the school team was present, we were all sailing in the same boat. The principal gave freedom but was not bothered about the way we taught and our well being. It made me hit a roadblock. 


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That’s when my peers came handy to help me. Initially, we met to vent out the problems. After a point, we started to look at the things which worked in the class. One of them said that they did visit the homes of children. Another one said that they started informal conversations with children. Implementation was the next thing which made me realise that one thing that works in one context might not work in another.  

That is when I realised that a safe space is needed to share the ideas and the problems we face daily in class. That is when the social-emotional learning was introduced to me which made me realise the potential gap that needs to be bridged. 

 As a first step, I started working on myself. I kept a journal to record what was happening in class. I made a note of the things that were going well and things that were not going well. It made me aware of my triggers and plan for contingencies. I was able to see my emotions change based on the situations and respond to them accordingly. I was able to make better choices which would help the class to grow. I also collaborated with the school team members to work collectively and create a safe space to have a learning environment in the school. I was also able to get people from various organisations to come and interact with students to give them access to various possibilities. I realised the importance of SEL.

It was not a one day process but it was a journey to explore myself and be more aware to respond to the situations. Create a safe learning space to make mistakes and learn from each other. 

On the challenges side, schools are least interested in social emotional learning of teachers as it would not show instant results and it is not tangible or measurable. They also think as an additional burden to the teachers. Teachers don’t take it seriously as they won’t implement in class with consistency. School leader’s commitment would define the level of engagement in the development of teachers. 

How to get started with SEL in school and how to get it right. 

Here are 5 steps that a school can follow to be effective. 

  1. Start with the known – Teachers get excited and be more participative when we start with what they know. Focus on their strengths and the experience which would help in exchange of ideas among themselves. 
  2. Identify the problem – Identifying the root cause of the problem would help to prioritise. Teachers would become aware of the situation and act accordingly. 
  3. Choose/create a plan – Adopting an existing plan may not be applicable in a given context. The plan must consider the context of school, the problems faced. Inclusion of teachers during the planning will yield better results. 
  4. Feedback – The created plan will never be perfect. Feedback from the stakeholders would help in making changes and constant improvement. Consistently following the feedback mechanism will help in adding value to the programme. 
  5. Consistency is the key – Programmes fail as there is no consistency in implementation. Programmes designed must be continuous to see the output as it takes time to incorporate and inculcate the learnings. 

These are the important issues that we must keep into account while ensuring that the SEL mechanism works in school. If we keep these points in mind, it is quite likely that we can successfully see the implementation of the SEL in our schools.

Murali is pursuing his MA in Education from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.

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