A spoof of a man having his emotions managed by a machine

Are educators using SEL to empower or to manipulate?

A recent report on SEL falls short of addressing what schools need to do

Learning for well-being

SEL has gained the attention of educators in recent years as studies have demonstrated the direct causal links between social-emotional learning and important human developmental attributes, such as developing self-confidence and empathy, having meaningful friendships and relationships with siblings and parents, expressing personal ideas and emotions, developing dreams and a unique purpose in life, and feeling a wide range of emotions at deep and meaningful levels.

Related: Teacher training does wonders for students’ emotional regulation

All of these positive attributes are based on developing self-understanding. Children with better self-understanding have a lower risk of mental-health disorders and physical health diagnoses such as depression, cutting, and substance abuse.

When we don’t teach self-understanding in schools, we endanger children’s and adolescents’ future potentials in life, resulting in unhealthy behaviors, obesity, anxiety and depressive states, bullying, and gun violence. Children want to learn how to be healthy physically and emotionally. Children have real developmental needs that require a concerted effort to enhance their inner lives and impart protective factors that last a lifetime.

Learning about the self

In the Mental Health for All Toolkit for teachers, counselors, administrators, students and parents, we describe the Integrated Self Model (iSelf), a framework to develop students’ self-understanding based on 30 cognitive and positive psychology attributes.

Research shows that when the self becomes the lens through which students learn, students can balance cognitive with non-cognitive factors to become happy and whole people who are equipped to create a positive life and make contributions toward a better society.

It is time that we ground the purpose of SEL in the psychology of well-being to produce emotionally, physically, and psychologically healthy children. Before implementing SEL best practices, teachers and administrators should ask themselves, “What is the purpose of SEL?”

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