Building social and emotional learning skills

By Carrie Ann Olson, Extension Educator and Associate Extension Professor

October 2019

Social emotional learningSocial and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults learn important life skills. There is increasing recognition that graduating from high school and being prepared for college and career requires a skill set that extends beyond traditional academics. Eight out of ten employers say SEL skills are the most important to success and yet also the hardest skills to find. The overwhelming majority of school administrators (96%), teachers (93%) and parents (81%) believe that SEL is just as important as academic learning.  As an introduction to the topic of Social Emotional Learning, check out this short YouTube video “Educate The Heart.” 

Knowledge of content and academic skills are important, but it is also critical that youth learn to: 

  • recognize and manage their emotions,
  • demonstrate care and concern for others, 
  • establish positive relationships, 
  • make responsible decisions, 
  • set goals and 
  • overcome challenges constructively.

In other words, young people need to develop skills beyond what is covered in the formal educational classroom. In fact, many of these other skills provide better predictors of college and career success than achievement test scores.  

Here are some terms that may be familiar to you. We see SEL as related to all these terms. 

  • 4-H has referred to 21st century skills for decades (Communication, Connection, Choice).  
  • Some school settings teach character skills (Respect, Caring, Responsibility). 
  • Employers will often talk about soft skills referring to things that are not technical or math/reading related (things like Work Ethic, Time Management, Self Confidence), 
  • Emotional intelligence involves Emotional Awareness, Empathy, Getting Along with Others

Calling them “soft” tends to imply that these skills are “less” important than “hard” skills – less measurable, less important, less teachable. But these are all important life skills, they are all teachable skills and they are all related concepts.

4-H Youth Development Volunteers play an influential role in the social and emotional learning of the young people they work with – they model these skills, they do activities with youth to support their skill development - but it doesn’t happen by accident.  

There are things you can do to increase the chance that SEL skills will be caught and taught in your program. Volunteers need to understand, believe in, and model SEL skills if we are going to best support youth in developing them.

I’m co-chair of the development team of the 2019 4-H Annual Volunteer Training, “Building 4-H Social Emotional Learning Skills” which focuses on building youth and adult volunteer knowledge about Social Emotional Learning skills.  This statewide annual volunteer training is for all 4-H youth and adult volunteers in clubs, county and tribal programs, including project development committees, federations, leader’s councils, and other groups. At least one volunteer from each club, program or group must plan on attending, but volunteers are encouraged to come as a team of youth and adults. Volunteers will leave this session with SEL tools and activities, as well as an action plan to embed SEL skill-building into 4-H programming. 

Multiple training dates, locations, and times are available for volunteer opportunities. Volunteers are welcome at any location.

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