I’ve taught my fair share of self-esteem lessons. Some involve students identifying their strengths or positive characteristics. Others encourage students to embrace what makes them special or unique. Teachers and parents alike advocate for self-esteem activities, believing that if students feel better about themselves, they’ll feel better about being in school. While this work has its purpose, what if we focused on helping students develop a better understanding of their strengths, as well as their weaknesses? Can we take that self-awareness and add the abilities to help kids manage their emotions and develop empathetic relationships? That’s where social-emotional learning, or SEL, comes in.
With stronger social-emotional skills, students will have the tools they need to forge supportive relationships peers and adults. They can also develop perseverance as they learn to manage their successes — and failures — in the classroom. Targeted SEL, rather than catch-all self-esteem building, will grow a student’s confidence more authentically. Likewise, when students become more socially and emotionally competent, they’ll be more adept at recognizing the feelings, strengths, and values in others. SEL also translates to more workplace success, as students learn valuable collaboration and problem-solving skills. SEL doesn’t exclude self-esteem. Instead, it includes self-esteem as one component of a child’s inter- and intra-personal development.
And what about my social media-addicted fifth-graders? SEL promotes improved attitudes toward themselves and others. So with proper SEL, maybe they’ll think twice about venting angrily about a friend online, or they’ll reconsider if their value is truly measured in the number of followers they have. Self-awareness and management, rather than self-esteem, are the start of bringing more usies into the selfie generation.
Connie Ward is a school counselor in DC. Reach her via email or Twitter.