Social and Emotional Learning: Part II

Jun 28, 2021 | Blog

Social and Emotional Learning: What’s It About?
Part II

We’re back to look at the brain’s role in Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). In Part I, we explored the relationship between SEL and education, and we noted how many school districts have embraced the importance of SEL. Now, let’s consider how brain science has fostered the evolution of social and emotional learning in local classrooms.

As we know, the brain is a complex organ. But when it comes to how the brain helps children manage themselves and interact with others, we can distill this knowledge into three basic components: Survival State, Emotional State and Executive State.

  • The Survival State: We are born in this state, and we never lose it. Here, our sole concern is survival, and its only question is, “Am I safe?” The only skills we have in this state are fight, flight and freeze.
  • The Emotional State: This state begins when children start to develop language skills. We never lose this state either. Because humans are social animals, we depend on each other for survival. This state’s sole concern is if we are connected to others around us. It asks, “Am I cared for?” The only skills children have access to in this state are blaming and judging.
  • The Executive State: This state is key for education. It is in this state a child can problem solve, explore and learn. The primary question is, “What can I learn from this?” In this state, we learn 12 important skills: Attention, Time Management, Organization, Prioritization, Working Memory, Impulse Control, Flexibility, Empathy, Metacognition, Goal Achievement, Task Initiation and Emotional Control.

In looking at the Executive State skills, it becomes obvious why this state is so important to learning in the classroom. However, while we naturally have access to Survival and Emotional State skills, all the Executive State skills must be explicitly modeled and taught to children while at home, school or in the community.

No matter how many executive skills a child successfully adopts and learns, children do not have access to those skills if their Survival and Emotional States are not taken care of first.

This means that a child cannot learn or strive for academic success unless they first feel safe and connected. Children need consistent physical, emotional and social safety to activate the parts of the brain that foster Executive State skills.

Finally, even when a growing child has learned these skills, their Executive State does not fully develop until around the age of 25, which means every child continues to need support in these skills as they mature and navigate their educational career.

This is why educators and communities must focus on the whole child and embed SEL into all learning and cultural settings. With the appropriate supports, we can ensure that our children feel safe and connected in their learning environments, and they are being taught the executive skills necessary for academic and lifelong success. When we embrace social and emotional learning, we make sure that every student across Greater Nashville achieves their full potential.

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Blog Author: Elandriel Lewis, Senior Manager, Early Learning and Training