The Fundamentals of Social Emotional Skill Development

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Understanding the key concepts of social emotional functioning for students is critical for anyone starting out in the field of school social work. What does it mean to have social emotional skills in social awareness, relationship management, decision-making skills, self-management and self awareness? How can social workers help develop these skills?

CASEL social emotional learning circle- Homes and communities, schools, classrooms, self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, social awareness, SEL curriculum and instruction, schoolwide practices and policies, family and community partnerships.
CASEL social emotional learning circle

The CASEL Model

The Collaborative for Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) developed the above model. This model addresses areas of social emotional wellness that are important for all students- from young kids to young adults. According to CASEL, the five areas in the center of the circle are concepts every student, “should know and be able to do for academic success, school and civic engagement, health and wellness, and fulfilling careers”.

Let’s take a deeper dive into each competency area.

Social Emotional Skill #1: Self Awareness

Self awareness is a person’s ability to recognize their own emotions/ thoughts/ values and how these concepts impact their behavior. Having a “growth mindset,” assessing your strengths and developing self-confidence are all a part of self awareness.

Social Emotional Skill #2: Self Management

Self management uses the self awareness skills to help students regulate their emotions, manage stress and set goals. Self management can also include recognizing external supports and how these supports can help work towards a goal.

Goal setting requires some organizational skills. Kids with executive functioning deficits can definitely benefit from additional supports in the area of self management.

A common social emotional goal especially for students with Autism is around the “size” of the problem. This sort of goal would typically go in the self management competency area. However, goals around the size of the problem are somewhat controversial. Check back for a more in-depth look at specific social emotional goals.

Social Emotional Skill #3: Social Awareness

Empathy is the key term in terms of social awareness. Social awareness is the ability to “put yourself in another person’s shoes”. Social awareness includes taking into account diverse perspectives and having respect for others.

The Social Thinking curriculum is great for developing social awareness. Social Behavior Mapping is great because the student is encouraged to think about how their behavior impacts others’ thoughts and feelings.

Social Emotional Skill #4: Relationship Skills

Relationship skills (or relationship management) includes skills like communication, conflict resolution, and social skills.

Although more of a reactive approach, restorative conversations are great learning opportunities. Even if restorative conversations are scripted, they can teach reflective listening, perspective-taking, and taking responsibility.

Social Emotional Skill #5: Responsible Decision-Making

Decision making is the social emotional skill competency where ethics may come in. A student who has strong decision-making skills would be able to consider a range of options and make choices that positively impact them or others.

Responsible decision-makers are able to complete the following steps:

  • Identify a problem
  • Generate possible solutions to the problem
  • Assess efficacy of the solutions
  • Reflect on decision made and impacts on others

Resources to Help Develop Students’ Skills

There are tons of resources out there to help build skills in all of these areas. For the mental health providers out there- send me your favorites! I am compiling a toolkit for school mental health providers and I’d love to hear what you’re already using!

In the process of developing this toolkit, I came across this site- Learning to Give. The resources on this page are broken down into the social emotional competencies and it is pretty thorough. It’s definitely something I’ll be going back to often!

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