What do you call SEL skills? Does it really matter?

What do you call SEL skills? Does it really matter?

Lots of people are talking about social and emotional learning (SEL) these days.  Is it something new?  Nope!  Has it been called other things?  Sure!  How about Character Building or Growth Mindset or Soft Skills or 21st Century Skills?  Just a few of the descriptive terms used by Anya Kamenetz’s, lead education blogger for NPR. Check out her blog here.  Her most recent blog agrees a focus on skills beyond academics in education is vital to our future.  In the two years since she originally wrote about SEL though, not much progress has been made in specifically landing on an agreeable term for everyone.

What’s the question?

So why am I blogging about a blog?  It peaked my curiosity and got me to thinking about whether or not it is important that we all use the same “term”.   If we use any of the terms above, are we talking about the same thing?

Well, the first thing I thought would be helpful would be to look up the terms in the dictionary.  Could I use the definitions to either show similarities or differences.  Guess what?  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary didn’t recognize any of them!  How can that be?

Let’s define them!

Next, I did what all good detectives do, I put “definition of” …into a google search and came up with lots of options to check out.  In fact, 10,600,000 results popped up in .62 seconds for character building alone! As any good problem solver knows, you have to identify your emotions, determine possible solutions and consequences and decide what the best plan is for you.  So, I took a deep breath, decided to check out just a few of the definitions and create my own summary for you.

Character Building:  Becoming a better person by improving good or useful parts of your character (ie things like respect, self-reliance, endurance, and courage).  Do we all agree on what it takes to be a “good person” of character? Does it look the same for everyone?

Growth Mindset:  Having a self-perception that you can change yourself through hard work, learning new skills, persistence, and practice.  Someone with a growth mindset potentially views challenges and failures as opportunities to learn.   Is this an “attitude” rather than a specific set of skills?

Soft Skills:  A combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, and attitudes that help people navigate everyday life. This term is typically used in relation to employment and the ability to deal with people, have common sense, and have a positive flexible attitude. Basically, getting along with others and navigating work and social situations.

21st Century Skills:  Identified as critical and needed for our society and workplaces and at times are also referred to as “soft skills”.  Critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, flexibility, social awareness, and initiative are just some of the words I found to describe them.

Social and Emotional Learning:  Typically identified as five core competencies:  self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsibility decision making.   These five core competencies are necessary for people to be able to manage emotions, achieve goals, and be empathetic to others as well as having positive relationships and making good decisions.

Does it matter what term we use?

I am most familiar with social and emotional learning because that has been my focus in my work.  I tend to feel that the term social and emotional learning is the most comprehensive because it is clearly defined what each competency is and what it looks like.

In the grand scheme of things, I am not sure there really is a right or wrong answer.  Any work that is done to build a kinder, more emotionally stable, empathetic world is good work in my book. What do you think?

If you want to learn more about how I can help you with SEL in your school or organization, find out how to contact me here.