The New Fundamentals: Social-Emotional Skills

From social interactions, to the workplace, to our political systems, we live in a world that is changing rapidly and it’s becoming more and more clear that to thrive we need an updated toolkit. At the Meeting House we believe that social-emotional skills are the new fundamentals, and we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to start working with children on these invaluable skills at an early age. Only by developing and relying on our emotional intelligence are we able to confront the constant updates, innovations, and evolutions that characterize our world today. And only if we collectively strengthen our social-emotional skills as communities and societies, will we be able to look past our differences, approach one another with empathy, and work together to solve the biggest challenges of our times with ingenuity and flexibility.

What is social-emotional learning? According to the Collective for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), it’s the process of learning to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. While these aren’t new skills -- parents and educators have always been teaching them in both formal and informal ways -- systematically incorporating them and emphasizing them in school environments is relatively new.

There are many reasons why schools are beginning to get onboard with social-emotional learning. These skills benefit our children in all areas of their lives, including academic performance. Recent analysis of over 200 studies found that students who have received social-emotional education performed 11% better academically. This has a ripple effect -- as children do better in school, they gain confidence and enhanced self-esteem, which increases motivation and happiness in school.

But academic performance is just the beginning. Particularly now, as we face increased incidences of discrimination and divisiveness within and between communities, social-emotional learning prioritizes developing the capacities for empathy, trust, and collaboration with others. Through emphasizing these skills, we transform our schools from the inside out. Students are better able to take one another’s perspectives, appreciate diversity, and resolve conflict.

We all need to develop our emotional intelligence. When we have the awareness and capacity to meet our own emotions with care, understand and empathize with others, and work together constructively, prejudice, injustice, and conflict will become less and less tolerable to us. Just as schools that emphasize social-emotional learning become more welcoming environments, if we all develop these skills, we will gradually build more compassionate communities and a more just nation.  

By starting to teach this skills early in our Meeting House programs, we are helping create a nation of peacemakers. In her recent article, Robin Stern of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, discusses the challenging work of listening to and understanding those whose views conflict with our own. For many of us, what she describes is foreign and sounds difficult. As adults this requires a process of retraining ourselves to respond instead of react to our emotions, but it is our goal that the emotional regulation strategies Ms. Stern describes will be second nature our children.

Social-emotional learning is at the center of everything we do at The Meeting House, and we hope our community of parents, educators, and supporters will join us in reinforcing this important skills for our children by practicing them ourselves and emphasizing them in all spheres. Particularly now, as we are all adjusting to a changing political landscape, and sharp differences in opinion have tended to keep us in our separate spheres, if we are to come back together as a nation and move forward peacefully, we’ll all need to draw on our emotional intelligence to relate wisely to one another.

Our favorite SEL resources: