SEL for Adults

by Sarah Clarke, Let’s talk about SEL for adults. According to the Panorama website, adult SEL is defined as “the process of helping educators build their expertise and skills to lead social and emotional learning initiatives. It also involves cultivating adults’ own social and emotional competencies.” I interpret this to mean, in order to teach it, we have to live it.

I have been working with children, adults, and families for fifteen years, both in the field of education and in the world of mental health. The longer I do this work, the more I understand that, in order to be an effective professional, I need to focus just as much time on my own wellness and competencies as I do on the populations I serve. I believe that this is just as true for educators.

Let’s look at the statistics. According to the ACEs study, more that 60% of adults will have experienced one of the 10 adverse childhood experiences listed in the study by the time they are 18. According to NAMI (the National Alliance for Mental Illness), one in five adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. This means that the majority of us have experienced some level of childhood adversity, and a fair amount of us are experiencing mental illness.

Even if you are someone who hasn’t experienced either, you bring with you a specific series of circumstances that has shaped who you are and what you believe. And we all work with students who have not had those same set of circumstances. Adult SEL means that, along with working with students’ social and emotional competencies, we acknowledge that we also have our own social and emotional competencies that are continuously developed and refined during our practice as educators.

Again, according to Panorama, “a study from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence found that teachers who were mandated to teach SEL, but did not cultivate their own practice worsened their students’ SEL skills. However teachers who developed their own SEL skills, not only improved their own well-being, but improved the social, emotional and academic development of their students.”

Some ways to develop and refine your own SEL skills:

  • Begin to develop your capacity for reflective thinking. The basis of reflective thinking is curiosity. This is different than being self-critical or judgmental. This is reflecting, without judgment on what your experience has been like, and what it could be in the future. Some examples of reflective questions are as follows:
    • “What was my best moment today, and how can I have more moments like it?”
    • “What was my most challenging moment today, and what can I learn from that moment?”
    • “How are my students reacting to my lessons, to me, to my classroom? What can I learn from their reactions?”
    • “How did my mood today influence my interactions?”
    • “Are people responding to me in the way that I would like them to? What am I doing that influences those responses?”
    • “What feels uncomfortable to me to think about? What does that discomfort tell me about myself and my interactions?”
    • “Am I living the skills and values I am trying to teach? If not, why?”
    • “How am I caring for myself, so I can arrive as my best self?”
    • “If I’m not caring for myself appropriately, why not? What assumptions can I challenge, so I can start caring for myself?”
  • Increase your emotional vocabulary. The more words you have to describe your emotions and the emotions around you, the better you will be able to understand and cope with those emotions. If you can name it, you can tame it.
  • In conversations with other adults, and with students, work to really empathize and understand their viewpoint before jumping to problem solving.
  • Work to refine your self-care. Think about ways that you can build in calming routines and experiences into your day.

In this unpredictable world of political divides and pandemic illnesses, our social and emotional competencies are what will help us understand ourselves and each other. Adult SEL is one important way that we can build ourselves up, so we can continue to build up our students.