The Social and Emotional Dimension

The felt bond that unites teacher and student is the force that propels and inspires learning. Remember your own days as a student. Think about when you were able to learn best. Did you feel alone, fearful, or discouraged? Or did you feel supported and loved? Too often the social and emotional foundation is ignored, and learning suffers. And this connection works in both directions: healthy children will want to do their best for someone they love and respect.

Whole child approaches to education incorporate this important social and emotional dimension of the learning climate. Some schools offer actual social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, typically in after-school programs. CASEL has program guides to accomplish this. However, Educate the Whole Child seeks to draw SEL into each of the five intelligences or learning strands enumerated on our web page. A wholehearted commitment to each child should permeate everything that happens at the school to the extent this is possible. This commitment can form the strongest element of a healthy social and emotional school climate.

Each of the intelligences provides opportunities for advancing social and emotional development. For example,

  • getting students outside and being mindful in nature can awaken appreciation of all we owe to the natural world;
  • community engagement with projects that can develop empathy and unselfishness, such as recording stories from elders;
  • handwork can teach important motor skills, and can strengthen persistence; imagine a quilt, an orchestra of handmade instruments, a puppet show;
  • disciplined physical movement help children feel comfortable in their bodies, develop team skills, and help promote a mature perspective on winning and losing;
  • creative work, such as storytelling or singing together, warms the heart and completes the person; it counterbalances the immensely valuable but cool analytical quality of pure intellect;
  • and even in the conventional intellectual forms of learning, dealing with ideas, historical events, and facts that illustrate moral principles and show sacrifice for the common good can build character and a sense of higher purpose.


Resources for Social and Emotional Learning.

Research on social and emotional learning can be found at

The most visible organization in this field is CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning). They set forth “standards” for SEL in five areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. And they offer program guides for discrete programs:

A groundbreaking new study from the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College has found that high-quality, research-validated social and emotional learning programs bring a return of $11 for every $1 invested.” Find the full 64-page monograph at:

The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility provides an excellent model for state-of-the-art programs in SEL.

For an alternative view, one that considers SEL a distraction, see

With thanks for support and encouragement from The Myrin Institute and Orion magazine.