Social and Emotional Learning: Building and benefiting from human connections

Peace on Your Wings

Reading. Writing. Arithmetic.

Education has often focused on cognitive skills like these.

Empathy. Kindness. Altruism.

Resiliency.“Prosocial” behaviors like these can actually improve academic performance.

For over 20 years, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, Ph.D. — renowned expert in the area of social and emotional learning (SEL) — has been conducting scientific research that demonstrates that children who attain social and emotional fitness actually do better in school and in life. And she’s got the numbers to prove it.

There are numerous SEL programs underway in schools and communities, and all of them are based on the premise that the best learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships. The award-winning teacher, researcher and professor from the University of British Columbia offered one explanation for how SEL programming might affect academic performance: “At its core, relationships are central. When we feel connected and cared for, we engage. Learning occurs in the context of caring.” 

Aristotle knew this long before the acronym SEL came into usage. He said: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
One SEL exercise in a class of fourth- and fifth-graders asked students to carry out acts of kindness and report back. Examples were as simple and as profound as these:

  • sharing a snack with a fourth-grader I didn’t really know
  • talking to a girl on the playground who was standing off to the side
  • hugging my mom who looked tired 
  • helping my dad get my baby brother into the car

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Schonert-Reichl, the Ministry of Education of British Columbia has integrated SEL into the K-12 curriculum. She has presented her findings over the course of six dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who shares a strong interest in transformative education and science. A visit to Hawai‘i to speak at the Schools of the Future conference is another chance to share her work, this time, according to Kim Schonert-Reichl, “in a community where connectedness is part of the DNA and caring is part of the culture.”