The importance of: Social and Emotional Learning and Character growth

(2 minutes read)

At Citywise we believe that social-emotional learning and character growth go hand in hand in empowering and supporting young people to unlock their potential. Here we review how they are important and how they are connected according to Dr. Arthur Schwartz, a leading figure in research and practice in the field of children’s character development.

What is SEL?

Social-Emotional Learning refers to the skills that enable us to understand and manage our emotions, establish positive relationships and effectively communicate with the people around us. They are resources that can help us when we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or lonely. These skills include self-awareness, recognising and expressing our feelings and thoughts; self-management, regulating our impulses and identifying coping strategies; social awareness, exercising empathy and respect and appreciating social differences; and interpersonal skills, maintaining healthy relationships, collaborating and seeking and offering help.

Dr. Arthur Schwartz finds that, on its own, social-emotional learning lacks the direction that responsibility and ethical decision-making give us. Why is it important to learn social and emotional intelligence? This is where character growth comes in, as a compass that helps us identify the meaning and purpose of living a good life.

What do we mean when we say character?

Character can be understood as the key qualities that make you who you are, showing consistency between your beliefs, values and behaviour. It means that your choices represent the kind of person you want to be. In Dr. Arthur Schwatz words, character is doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way and for the right reasons.

But how do we know what’s right? Children experience great pressures growing up. We can’t expect them to always make the choices that will enable them to flourish in life. For that we have to know the good, practice the good and care about the good, regarding ourselves, our family and our community. Character is both caught and taught, it’s like a muscle. Character is what we repeatedly do, think and feel so it takes time, patience and support to develop.

We can think about character in terms of four areas: moral, performance, intellectual and civic character. Moral character includes the character strengths of integrity, compassion, honesty and taking initiative. Performance character refers to the abilities of self-control, responsibility, goal setting and grit. Intellectual character involves curiosity, critical thinking, open-mindedness and a growth mindset. And civic character contains the strengths of fairness, respect and contributing to the common good. For more information and resources, you can check the American Character and Social-emotional development guidelines here.

Both social-emotional skills and character strengths are key abilities that will help children to flourish in school, at home, in their social relationships and communities and contribute positively to society. Character development gives aim to social-emotional learning and social-emotional learning supports and enables character development. At Citywise, our mentoring model and our curriculum recognise this central connection between the two. We do this by focusing on self-knowledge, a growth mindset, goal-setting, resilience, self-control, good judgement and fairness.