Happy International SEL Day!
I have to admit when I first heard that there was an SEL day, it felt kind of gimmicky to me. It reminded me of the days dedicated to all manner of things (i.e., National Cheeseburger Day) that are mostly frivolous and in pre-pandemic days would lead my creative colleagues to bring in baked goods in the shape of mini cheeseburgers. I didn’t want to reduce SEL to hashtags and blog posts. But as we decided to sign on as an organization and talked about what we wanted to share, I got to thinking about how every day is SEL Day. And framing it that way makes me feel a little more connected to the idea of taking a day to advocate, remind, highlight, and support.
Social emotional learning or SEL is one of those concepts that gets a bit blurry. Over the past few years it seems everyone has something to say about social and emotional “stuff.” With the pandemic having a huge impact on children’s mental health, there is even more confusion about SEL than ever. We thought it made sense to take this day, SEL Day, to try to clarify a little bit of that difference. SEL often gets conflated with mental health supports, or even more confusingly with terms like social and emotional well-being or social and emotional health. Although having a strong sense of social and emotional well-being can certainly be an outcome when SEL is done well, it is not the only outcome.
Here at Whole Child Connection, when we talk about SEL, we are talking about the process of developing the skills and competencies children and adults need to be successful in school, work, and life. Those include key things like being able to communicate well with others, being able to make ethical decisions, understanding one’s own point of view, developing a positive racial identity, and being able to understand or take the viewpoint of another person. Described that way, SEL is for everyone, not just those who are struggling with social emotional concerns. And it is 100% connected to issues of race and equity as we can’t have any of those skills without understanding ourselves in the context of the world around us.
So as we think about the impacts of the pandemic and the national racial justice movement on children, SEL has an important place, not in solving the mental health crises many students are experiencing (that takes more targeted interventions by mental health professionals), but in helping all students navigate the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the transition back to some sense of normalcy.
Let me say that in a different way – SEL is still just as important as it always was. Having strong social and emotional skills is an essential part of helping young people to:
- make the transition back into school smoothly (it takes self-management to adapt to change);
- rebuild connections after long period of social distancing (it takes relationship skills to connect anew with people you haven’t talked to in a long time);
- navigate conversations about race, power and privilege (it takes self-awareness, social awareness, and communication skills to effectively talk about complex issues of identity and belonging);
- and ask for help when they aren’t transitioning well (it takes self-awareness to know you need more support than you are getting from friends and family).
So in honor of SEL day – I invite you to reach out to one child or young person in your life. Ask them how they are feeling. Share with them how you are doing. Let them know they matter. Make a connection. And spread the word that everyday is SEL day and SEL is for everyone.