By Melissa Farrell, Vice President, Spectrum Health and Human Services

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools is now a requirement of the New York State Department of Education (NYSDOE). NYSDOE’s goal is to make mental health and equity a priority for all school-aged children. SEL includes five core competencies to help students “acquire and apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities; manage their emotions; achieve personal and collective goals; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain supportive relationships; and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Self-awareness is the ability to understand emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Skills include developing a growth mindset, being able to define emotions, and developing interests and a sense of purpose in life.

Self-management is the ability to manage emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Skills include managing stress, delaying gratification, and goal setting.

Social Awareness is the ability to understand the emotions of others and be able to empathize with them. Skills include learning to express gratitude, recognizing social norms, and acknowledging other people’s perspectives.

Relationship Skills focuses on the ability to form and maintain health and supportive relationship. Skills include developing leadership and teamwork skills, learning to resolve conflicts, communication skills, and supporting others.

Responsible Decision-Making is the ability to make good choices about personal behavior and one’s social interactions. This includes skill development in learning to gather data to make good judgements, developing insight into the consequences of one’s choices, and learning critical thinking skills

NYSDOE recommends that schools incorporate these five core competencies into learning benchmarks from pre-school through high school to promote overall success of students. This marks a milestone in the efforts to address the needs of the whole child. Learning subjects like math and science is difficult when a child is experiencing emotional distress. Anxiety, or negative peer interactions like bullying, interfere with a child’s cognitive capacity to interpret and store information learned in class. Addressing children’s emotional needs helps them think critically, make decisions, better manage their time, and improve their test-taking skills.

In fact, a 2011 study undertaken by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning found that incorporating SEL activities into a child’s curriculum resulted in improvement in academic performance with achievement scores exceeding 11 points; improved attitudes and behaviors; improved learning motivation and classroom engagement. It also resulted in fewer disruptive and aggressive behaviors, a reduction in task noncompliance, and fewer disciplinary actions. Students also displayed fewer symptoms of mental health distress, such as depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal. Incorporating SEL helps them manage stress, make good decisions, successfully navigate relationships, and better prepare for success in school and in life.