Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has been around for about three decades as an umbrella term used to describe a range of approaches to help students develop effective interpersonal skills, connect and relate to others personally, and promote collaboration for mutual gains.
Activities that foster social-emotional intelligence encourage students to develop skills and behaviours that contribute toward self-awareness, social awareness, conscious communication (speaking and listening), keen focus, empathy, and an appreciation of diversity and inclusion. These skills are essential in determining a student’s success, well-being, and contribution to humanity.
Awareness, the foundation of emotional intelligence, helps teachers, parents, and students gain clarity around the catalyst of bullish behaviour. Once we understand that this harmful behaviour is a result of personal insecurity, pain from trauma, abuse, or neglect, we can approach the child with compassion as we work with them to develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and help them find healthy alternatives to channel their strong emotions while simultaneously building their self-worth. This method works to solve the root of the problem versus trying to suppress their actions through punishment, which only exacerbates the issue. Equally, self-awareness can help the victims of bullying understand that while they may feel like a target, they are simply an outlet. When we can help children detach the strong emotional projection of others from their worth, we foster greater understanding and empathy as opposed to defensiveness or hurt feelings.
Since the essence of SEL is to build effective working relationships, it subsequently motivates students to avoid dysfunctional conflicts, including bullying. SEL encourages students to appreciate that not every conflict is dysfunctional and that everyone is allowed to have their opinion as we all have different life experiences and preferences. When students can approach a conversation by accepting diversity of thoughts as a strength rather than a weakness or threat, they can better handle a situation positively without hostility or strong emotions.
A meta-analysis of 213 school-based universal SEL programs showed that SEL assisted in tackling conduct problems such as aggression and bullying. This makes sense, as bullying is known to be fuelled in part by a lack of interpersonal skills. SEL can also counter bullying behaviour in less subtle ways through anti-bullying programmes. A school in California, for example, arranged teacher-student friendship lunches and a peer mentorship programme as means to promote the use of SEL to train students in resolving conflicts and deter bullying behaviour (Allbright et al., 2019).
Kubiszewski et al. (2019) advocated SEL to be critical in promoting three pro-victim defending behaviours: alert, care, and opposition. SEL-trained students who witness bullying behaviour are highly likely to alert a responsible person, such as a teacher or the designated safeguarding officer—aiding effective intervention. These students are also more likely to empathise and provide emotional support to those who have been victims of bullying, as they are more attuned to others’ emotions. Finally, SEL-trained students tend to oppose harmful behaviour as they are more likely to possess the social skills to diplomatically denounce bullying without becoming part of the conflict or making it worse.
The results speak for themselves. A meta-analysis report released in 2017 that evaluated nearly 97,500 students across 82 schools found that when SEL was embedded in the curriculum, students were 42% less likely to be involved in physical aggression, disabled students were 20% less likely to be bullied, academic achievement improved by 13%, and the dropout rate reduced by up to 12% (Schlund, Jagers, and Schlinger, 2020).
SEL is essential for promoting conflict resolution and deterring bullying amongst students. It’s positive to see parents, teachers, governors, social workers, and governments take a greater interest in SEL to promote positive student behaviour.
About the author:
Iqbal Ahmad (SFHEA), Founder & CEO of Britannia Awards - www.thebritanniaawads.com, holds various teaching qualifications including, but not limited to, Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training and Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching. He has been involved in training teaching professionals for over fifteen years and mentored various educational leaders both within his organisation and in the capacity of a corporate trainer. Iqbal Ahmad is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA).
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Mondi, C., Giovanelli, A. and Reynolds, A., 2021. Fostering socio-emotional learning through early childhood intervention. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, 15(1).
Rueda, P., Pérez-Romero, N., Victoria Cerezo, M., and Fernández-Berrocal, P. (2021). The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Adolescent Bullying: A Systematic Review. Psicología Educativa, 28(1), 53 - 59
Schlund, J., Jagers, R. J., & Schlinger, M. (2020). Emerging insights: Advancing social and emotional learning (SEL) as a lever for equity and excellence.