Global Experiences of Social-Emotional Learning – webinar report
By Jo Malone, Director of Education
On 19th January 2022 Persona Education convened an online Sharing Circle webinar with 23 incredible educational practitioners, leaders, consultants and advisers from across Europe, MENA, Asia and Australia, as part of our Life Skills and Wellbeing Community of Practice. The purpose was to explore global experiences of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) with peers, share and learn from one another about different approaches, how it is delivered and whether these educators were identifying impact.
Here is what we learned…
Experience of approaches
We were not surprised to learn that there are various approaches to SEL. In some schools, and alternative educational settings, it is an absolute priority. In others it is a priority aligned with a holistic approach to student wellbeing, and unfortunately, in a few, it is not a priority at all.
SEL is especially important to those working in conflict contexts, and/or with children who are particularly vulnerable. We were delighted to have with us representatives from four institutions who work with significant cohorts of refugee and migrant children where SEL is prioritised to support work around identity and belonging.
For those who do include SEL at their place of practice, implementation strategies varied vastly. Of course, this is largely dependent on the age of the students, the cultural context and ethos of the institution.
In early years, the importance of play was emphasised as the most effective mode for learning social and emotional skills. For the World Vision NGO in Palestine, SEL is seen as a critical tool for the socialisation of children in readiness for more formal education. This organisation has a clear framework for implementation and monitoring.
We heard from Indian educators about how raising self-esteem and self-confidence is a key objective in early years. Art therapy, music and other creative approaches are employed as engaging and impactful ways to deliver SEL with these younger students. A beautiful example was given of a large ‘tree’ that can be repurposed as a Thank You Tree, a Sorry Tree or a Congratulations Tree, to normalise behaviours and attitudes such as gratitude, owning mistakes, and acknowledging others.
Agency for older students
With older students, it was a majority view that students should be given more agency as a part of SEL, whether that is more self-directed learning, a voice in designing the curriculum, or changing the pedagogical approach so there is much more student voice.
We heard from one extremely innovative and courageous Head Teacher who is committed to putting SEL at the heart of all they do, running a The New School on sociocratic principles. A radical approach to student agency! From India we heard examples of much more project-based learning in life skills lessons, giving students more choice and control over aspects such as pace.
Challenges and simulations
SEL has its challenges of course. SEL involves a lot of introspection, learning about the self, reflecting on experiences and in some cases, being able to articulate difficult ideas and experiences. This is, not only for young people, but for many of us, extremely challenging as we tap into our most vulnerable selves.
One effective way around this tricky issue is the use of simulations and imagined contact, to check understanding and employment of SEL tools and approaches taught. A simulation offers a safer space for reflection and can also be an effective way to assess learning.
Which brings us on to…
Use of frameworks
In education, if we don’t measure something, more often than not, we don’t do it. It was good to hear that there are organisations and institutions out there such as World Vision in Palestine, schools in India, the UAE and UK using tried and tested evaluation frameworks for SEL and wellbeing such as the CASEL framework, the Delhi Happiness Curriculum, GL Pass and others.
Where a formalised framework for measuring impact is not being employed, teachers are attuned to changes in communication and behaviours, improved relationships and positive attitudes to learning as metrics of positive SEL interventions.
One educator working with migrant and refugee children in Australia reminded us that what can appear to be the smallest of changes can be a very significant indicator of progress for individual students, for example, speaking for the first time in a circle activity.
It was encouraging to hear that many of us are focused on rewarding positive attitudes and behaviours and not just academic achievement and progress. Most progress appears to being made working with the most vulnerable young people.
Life Skills and Wellbeing Community of Practice
Persona Education is thankful to all involved in the global Life Skills and Wellbeing Community of Practice. If you want to be a part of this group you can ask to join on LinkedIn here.
Also, keep an eye out for future webinars and sharing circles – all are welcome!
Persona Education offers free access to its Persona Life Skills e-learning platform for secondary schools and colleges interested in developing their pupils’ social & emotional life skills, to boost wellbeing and employability.
About the author: Jo Malone is a global education expert, with over two decades experience in teaching, e-learning, dialogic education and teacher training. A social and emotional learning (SEL) and PSHE thought-leader, she is Director of Education at the Bristol based edtech company Persona Education Ltd, providing onboarding, guidance and support for schools and colleges using the Persona Life Skills personality insights life skills e-learning app. www.persona-life.com