Social and Emotional Learning in Education for Peacebuilding?

During DME for Peace’s latest Thursday Talk, Rebecca Herrington presented the newly released guide on “Emerging Practices in Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation of Education for Peacebuilding Programming”. After her presentation on the guide’s content and uses she mentioned the educational process called social and emotional learning, or ESL, and its untapped potential in education for peacebuilding. This term, social and emotional learning, really caught my attention so I decided to research it a little and see how the peacebuilding field could benefit from its application.
The Center for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) explains that SEL develops “knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary 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 kids traditionally learn social and emotional skills through observation of the adults in their lives, SEL can also be programmatically applied in schools, and has been for quite a few years in countries like the United States, China and Singapore. SEL’s benefits in school have been proven through a growing collection of research. It has been proven to increase academic success, lower stress levels in students, prevent negative behavior, including violence, and promote positive relationships and attitudes.

CASEL was founded by in 1994 to advance the use of SEL through research, practice and policy. It has outlined five competencies at the core of SEL:
1. Self Awareness
2. Self Management
3. Social Awareness
4. Relationship Skills
5. Responsible Decision Making
I see each of these competencies as greatly associated with conflict sensitivity and transformation. SEL does not only promote one’s emotions and thoughts, but the ability to regulate them—managing stress and impulses—in different situations. Social awareness entails empathizing with others, including with those of different backgrounds, which is especially applicable in our field. The last two competencies, however, are what really drew me to see SEL’s potential in our work. Relationship skills include good communication, active listening, and constructive conflict negotiation. Responsible decision making means taking into consideration the resulting social, safety, ethics and others’ well-being when making a decision. A recent New York Times article on the SEL results at a local school described how children are now getting together to discuss the conflict they share and how to solve them. She describes one conversation in which a few children came together regarding the bahvior of an aggressive classmate:

“9-year-old girl said she “felt scared” when the boy chased and grabbed her; Leo, an 8-year-old with neon orange sneakers, described, with agitation, how the boy sat down, uninvited, at his table and caused so much commotion that it drew sanctions from a cafeteria aide.
“How does he really bother you?” a girl in a pink sweatshirt asked, seeking clarification, as she’d been taught.
“Because,” Leo responded, his voice swelling with indignation, “it took 10 minutes from recess!”

While these issues might seem trivial to adults, the fact that they are applying constructive dialogue skills at that age that have the potential to remain with them into their adulthood, is quite promising.
CASEL has a library of SEL related resources and research which you can access. They recently released the The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools. For a lighter background on SEL, you can access the New York Times article here and Berkley’s Greater Good mention of its use here. There is also a great book called Promoting Social and Emotional Learning which you can read through here.

Are there any programs that could benefit from this approach?

  1. Hi Frances!

    Thanks for highlighting such an interesting topic! I think S.E.L. could be useful in education programs with a focus on cross-cultural understanding and connection. Beyond the expression and resolution of conflicts, when children express how they are experiencing an event by talking about their feelings, differences and similarities in how individual children experience the event are brought forth. Talking about those differences, in a guided setting, could help children understand what it is like to experience life in another person’s shoes. In this way, S.E.L. could help promote not only peaceful emotional dialogue between individuals but also greater empathy and understanding between groups.

    I am interested in the evaluation of programs that incorporate S.E.L. What are the indicators of internalization of S.E.L. principles among children? How do we know if children are using these skills not just when they are explicitly thinking about them – such as in guided discussions or when they are part of classroom rules – but when they are at play or in unrelated activities? Particularly, I wonder how the presence of others who are actively using S.E.L. impacts internalization. Can S.E.L. principles be internalized if adults and peers outside the children’s S.E.L. programs are not using them?

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