I begin with a vignette that I remember as if it happened only yesterday. It was last October 2020, and my two children were in the middle of virtual learning sessions because our local public school district was still in a lock-down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Each Friday, we discussed the highlights of their week and my youngest explained how, “social and emotional learning is always the best part of the week because it was fun, a time to breathe easy, and be at peace.” I am thankful that the school counselors made time each week for social-emotional learning and supported the students through the Covid-19 pandemic. The value of social-emotional learning is that it supports learners—of all ages—to take the time to breathe easy and be at peace. My teaching and research utilize a comparative and international research design to investigate the development of global competencies in educators and learners. The purpose of this article is to examine the common ground between global education and social-emotional learning.
This purpose fits into the larger objective of the focus of the .ed Magazine’s special issue on social-emotional learning. In particular, this issue explores the theme of “Social and Emotional Learning” in coping with the social changes and social problems in relation to the global pandemic. The issue also focuses on ways that social-emotional learning can help empower the next generation to achieve their full potential as active citizens in the global community. Prior to the pandemic, I wrote an article entitled “Study Abroad as Social and Emotional Learning: Framing International Teaching with Critical Cosmopolitan Theory”. In that article, I examined Jones et al.’s description of the contours of social-emotional learning (SEL), which they explained included three components. First, SEL is made up of emotional processes that unfold when a person is able to recognize and regulate emotions. Second, SEL includes social and interpersonal skills that assist a person in recognized social cues and act with prosocial behaviors. Third, SEL includes a cognitive regulation that helps a person to adapt to new situations and regulate impulses. I contend that all three of these SEL features are important for learners, preservice teachers, and in-service educators within the context of schooling. The SEL components assist learners and educators to do as my youngest explained, “breathe easy and be at peace.” SEL, though, should not be confined to the parameters of just teaching and learning. I argue that SEL is critically important to the development of global citizenship and critical consciousness. Indeed, there is common ground between global education and social-emotional learning.
The three features of SEL align with the development of globally competent citizens who are culturally responsive and attuned to interpersonal skills. Global competencies are a mix of skills and dispositions to help citizens navigate and take action on international issues . The Asia Society explains how global competencies are “the capacity to understand and act on issues of global significance”. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a collection of goals and targets with the greatest significance to planet Earth. Adopted in 2015 by the United Nations, 17 SDGs offer a 15-year blueprint for achieving a more peaceful and sustainable planet by 2030. The SDGs and their accompanying 169 target areas represent a universal call to action and cooperation to ensure that “all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives in a world that is peaceful, just, and inclusive ”. I believe that SEL can help prepare global citizens for such a peaceful, just, and inclusive world. SEL is about mindfulness and developing a consciousness in regards to one’s emotional well-being as well as to the planet’s well-being. The late Brazilian educationist, Paulo Freire, used the term conscientization to identify and discuss the development of a critical consciousness of global issues by the literacy acts of reading and rewriting the world. Freire explains that reading the world is the dynamic action of opening one’s eyes to the world to develop a deeper awareness of one’s presence in the world and the possibilities wrapped up in that presence. Such a statement is in congruence with the emotional processes and cognitive regulation features of SEL. When eyes are opened, Freire asserts that citizens are ready to take action and start rewriting the world. By rewriting the world, Freire means the engagement in social activities that can lead to transforming the world. Rewriting the world connects with the SEL feature of engaging in social and interpersonal skills that inform how a citizen acts with prosocial behaviors. Jagers and colleagues call for and discuss a more transformative SEL that is justice and equity-oriented. I think there is great potential for framing SEL as an act of critical consciousness that guides global citizens to read and rewrite the world through taking mindful action in a collective way. The goals and targets of the United Nations’ SDGs provide a worthwhile map for such SEL-oriented collective action.