Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Not Just For Your Kids

What is Social Emotional Learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines Social Emotional Learning as, “The process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Similar to emotional intelligence, it has the core competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. According to the National Library of Medicine, SEL has positive outcomes on academic performance, citing an 11 percentile point gain in achievement. However, SEL has become a controversial issue amongst many school systems and board meetings. Similar to misunderstandings about Critical Race Theory, SEL has been used as a propaganda campaign to scare parents.

Lack of awareness is one of the primary problems with DEI. For us to be able to have empathetic, vulnerable conversations about differences we must know how to process our emotions. This doesn’t have to be complicated. While emotions might feel very complex, having a simple guide to describe your emotions with young people (all people for that matter) is helpful.

The SEL Color Wheel

The SEL color wheel breaks our emotions down into 6 basic categories: red for angry, orange for afraid, yellow for surprised, green for happy, blue for sad, and purple for disgusted. Most people, when asked to brainstorm emotions, tend to keep them very basic and will generally cite sad, happy, or mad. The color wheel gives kids language for more complex emotions and a shortcut, similar to a code word, to explain to them.

When talking about emotions it’s important to understand that not all emotions are positive. On the color wheel there’s a wide range of emotions. Yet, more often when someone shares something hard with us or painful like a DEI situation, we often react wanting to make it better with a positive wrapper (or band aid) around their sad or painful story.

“Toxic positivity Is forced, false positivity. It may sound innocuous on the surface, but when you share something difficult with someone and they insist that you turn it into a positive, what they’re really saying is “my comfort is more important than your reality.” – Susan David

Fostering psychological safety

When people in our personal lives express emotions, especially young people, it’s important to meet them where they’re at. It’s okay for them to feel that way. It’s okay for them to find a place to process their emotion and come back to the conversation when they’re ready. It’s okay for them to set boundaries around their emotions and to tell people if they’re not being treated according to their boundaries.

One of my friends has a special mat at her house and it has a curtain around it. When her children are expressing difficult emotions they know to go to the mat and close the curtain and that that’s a safe place for them to process their emotions. A place where no one will intervene until they are ready. It’s another tool that makes processing emotions in difficult situations easier. Having tools when we’re calm and rational can be helpful in situations where it’s hard to think clearly when we’re emotional.

Psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish you for speaking up.

I liken psychological safety to feeling safe when saying and doing hard things. There’s not going to be an adverse reaction, punishment, or retribution for speaking up and saying something unpopular. As allies, this has to be the case to have productive conversations about the challenges of diversity. If we don’t feel safe bringing up hard things like racism, sexism, and homophobia; then we’re never going to get to the real issues that are holding people back.


What’s next?

Want to do better, and not sure where to start? That is why we developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with accountability for diversity. You can also check out all of our other virtual and live program offerings.