Applied Psychology

The importance of social and emotional learning for children

May 07, 2019

Social and emotional learning is an innovative intervention approach which allows South African learners an education that develops both academic, social and emotional competence.

The South African schooling system is plagued with many challenges. The ability for teachers to manage their classrooms that are often overcrowded and lacking in resources is a continual problem. These classroom environments are not conducive to learning where on-going and persistent learner misbehaviour causes stress and anxiety that ultimately impacts on teacher commitment and motivation and explains the high levels of teacher burnout. All of these factors contribute to a failing educational system with poor academic outcomes. South African learners deserve an education that develops both academic and social and emotional competence to build the resilience that the youth of today need to thrive and develop when faced with our current and future life challenges.

Social and emotional learning is an innovative intervention approach that offers teachers’ the tools to build strong and trusting bi-directional relationships that ultimately change the relational dynamics between teachers, learners and peers. Through this, classrooms are transformed into positive learning environments where learners feel safe to explore and try out new behaviours. This process enables children and adults to apply a set of skills or competencies to navigate through life to ensure success initially in school, later in the workplace, and ultimately, as constructive and responsible members of society. These competencies are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision-making.

According to Melanie Godfrey and Kirsten McCleod, Co-founders and Directors of Foundations For Life, who are speaking at the upcoming SACAP Festival of Learning, the advantages of competency-based, well-implemented social and emotional learning are evident in research supporting social and emotional development, at teacher and student level, as a precursor to positive classroom outcomes such as quality teacher classroom management, improved academic achievement, strengthened relationships in classrooms, all of which positively impact student behaviour and emotional health and overall teacher and student commitment to school.

Melanie says: “Studies of young people who have developed social and emotional competencies at school show that they experience long-term positive outcomes at tertiary level including improved high school graduation, better college and career readiness, healthy relationships and good mental health. There’s less likelihood of criminal behaviour and more inclination to be engaged citizens.”

Teaching social and emotional learning to both adults and children starts with understanding the eight specific competencies. Through programmes that encourage daily commitment and practice, children and adults become socially and emotionally competent, and are able to face life’s challenges with more optimism and resilience, experiencing improved well-being and success. “Essentially, one learns a new way of being,” says Kirsten McLeod, one of the partners at Foundations for Life. “Self-awareness, self-management and social awareness form the bedrock of social and emotional learning that empowers a person to understand and regulate themselves appropriately and engage and collaborate effectively with others.”

By developing the capacity to manage emotions and regulate themselves, children and adults at school can make better, healthier choices in the midst of stressful situations. Improving social skills in the classroom such as learning to resolve conflicts, actively listen and how to find value in diversity can reduce disruptive or aggressive behaviours; and decrease the levels of stress and anxiety so that academic learning can improve.

At the upcoming 2019 Festival of Learning, Kirsten and Melanie will be co-presenters of a CPD-accredited (Continuing Professional Development) talk on how social and emotional learning in education can bring about social change. They will present latest research and discuss the eight core competencies for social and emotional well-being.

“What the research is clearly showing is that targeted social and emotional learning interventions in schools are transformational, and the multiple benefits of social and emotional learning programmes taught in schools have short and long term benefits that positively affect lives, says Melanie Godfrey. Long term improvements in social and emotional learning transforms relationships through strengthening communication skills. These benefits extend from classrooms out into schooling communities, families and the workplace.”

The 2019 Festival of Learning hosted by SACAP:
Cape Town, 23-24 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Claremont
Times: 23 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 24 May from 09h00 to 17h00
Human Library: 24 May from 11h00 to 15h00

Johannesburg, 30-31 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Rosebank
Times: 30 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 31 May from 09h00 to 17h00
Human Library: 30 May from 11h00 to 15h00

Tickets for the 2019 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets. Tickets are R250-00 for the full-day programme, and R200-00 for the short-talk evening programme. There is a special offer for students and alumni at R80-00 per ticket.
For further information please visit:

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