Embracing scientific knowledge from several disciplines such as psychology, neuroscience, and social sciences, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has a reputable heritage. SEL encompasses essential competencies and attitudes children need in order to behave appropriately in social settings. This relates to the skills of collaboration and getting along well with others, emotion regulation skills, empathy, responsible decision making, and relationship skills. According to Berman, these skills are fundamental for ‘the development of social consciousness’ and increased productivity of a nation.
The notion that schools can play a fundamental role in fostering children’s social and emotional wellbeing through a holistic approach in education is receiving a growing worldwide acknowledgment. A holistic approach to education goes beyond students’ academic instruction and aims to embrace each child’s cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual development. Notably, the whole-school approach to student wellbeing and learning is recognized as crucial for effective incorporation of social and emotional learning within educational settings. A commitment to a holistic approach through promoting SEL in schools would include modifying ‘the school’s ethos, organization, management structures, relationships, the physical environment, as well as the taught curriculum, so that the experience of school life is conducive to the health of all who learn and work there. The proximal goal of such approach is to encourage all students to participate actively in their self-directed and collaborative learning, while fostering the development of positive relationships at all levels within the school community. Moreover, the main emphasis of this approach is to support the development of students’ social, emotional, and cognitive skills within school settings in which these skills are constantly developed and applied.
Within educational settings, classroom teachers play a pivotal role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, because they tailor the social and emotional climate of the classroom. In general, teachers who encourage classroom participation and collaboration, initiate discussions about emotion regulation, provide clear classroom rules, and are positive role models for respectful behavior, can enhance children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Moreover, teachers who have increased awareness of the importance of — their own and children’s — emotions to their wellbeing and academic accomplishment, and consistently address these issues in the classroom may have significant implications on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. Namely, through active listening, sensitivity to children’s emotional, social, and educational needs, and development of mutual trust and empathy, teachers have a powerful impact on increasing children’s social and emotional skills . On the other hand, teachers who generally misinterpret children’s emotions may misunderstand their emotional states and learning needs, which may severely threaten students’ social and emotional well-being and their academic outcomes. Therefore, teachers’ support of students’ social and emotional wellbeing is considered ‘critical to achieving academic success.
Essentially, when children feel secure and safe in their immediate environment, they will take the risk needed to explore and acquire new knowledge. The sense of safety and security arises from nurturing and supportive environments where educators show sensitivity and care towards children’s social and emotional needs on a consistent basis. When children are provided with the emotional security they need, when they feel accepted, valued, and appreciated by their teacher, a positive relationship based on trust, shared understanding, and mutual respect will be born. In this kind of relationship, children are able to ‘express their feelings, concerns, and points of view with no fear or hesitation’. Moreover, when teachers are able to respect and value children as they are, they also support the development of their self-worth. Children who are supported to develop their self-worth, emotion regulation skills, and social competencies, are able to flourish into self-motivated and independent learners.
In order to establish a positive learning environment, teachers need to listen attentively to children’s voices and respect their opinions, needs, and individual interests. Additionally, by providing a well-planned classroom routine and reliable structure that make children feel confident to explore and learn, the students may begin ‘to feel some control over their environment and to internalize some control over their behavior’. A summary of research findings confirmed that learning environments in which children are able to experience frequent positive interactions with their teachers and peers, and are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning process, significantly contribute to their cognitive engagement in classroom tasks. Thus, modifying teacher’s pedagogical approach in a way that is more inclusive, meaningful, and caring for children is more likely to create a positive learning environment in the classroom. A positive classroom environment can facilitate children’s learning and enhance their academic potential.