Part one of a two-part series on Social and Emotional Learning. Read part two.

We all want our children to grow up learning to be kind, empathetic, and globally aware. As children spend so many of their waking hours in school, it is critical we focus on developing these values, skills, and competencies in the classroom. That’s where Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) comes in.

SEL is more than a buzzword. It’s a type of learning that helps develop essential skills and competencies like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

There is a growing body of evidence that shows when students develop their social and emotional skills, they not only become more empathetic and better at teamwork, they're also more prepared for the rest of their lives and perform significantly better academically, too. This evidence is a testament to the importance of building these competencies and mindsets, and it shows that we have a huge opportunity to bring powerful SEL into millions of classrooms.

SEL Challenges and Solutions

While the evidence points to results, there have been real-world implementation challenges to address. Public, private, and charter school teachers and school leaders across the United States and India have often asked “How do I integrate SEL within the school day when I have so much academic material to cover?” or “How do I teach SEL in a way that gets my students excited and keeps them engaged?”

In 2014, Better World Ed set out to research and develop the most effective ways to integrate social, emotional, and academic learning. What we learned early on reinforced our intuition: the content we created needed to be engaging, adaptive, and most importantly, it needed to feel relevant to students. With disengagement playing a role in school performance and dropout rates, we saw an opportunity to engage students’ hearts and minds in a way that also helped them do better in school.

Our learning and iteration led to a simple but powerful solution: Global “Learning Journey,” wordless videos that show the lives of unique people from all over the world, paired with written stories that seamlessly weave in academic word problems.

Why wordless? Teachers in both the U.S. and India shared that narration speed was difficult for some students to follow. We asked questions, trying to determine if the solution was to slow down the narration or try new voices, and eventually tested wordless videos. We observed that students demonstrated more curiosity about the people in the stories when there was no voiceover telling them what they were seeing or what to believe.

Additionally, when there are words in a video, viewers focus on reading subtitles which prevents mindful observation and immersion in the story. And, with 1 in 10 youth in the U.S. being ELL (English Language Learners), it’s critical that we make content inclusive. This is a chance for students to be aware, to be curious, and to introspect. These are critical practices for developing social and emotional competencies.

Students share that Learning Journeys make them more curious, mindful, empathetic, and motivated to create a more peaceful world. Teachers say that Learning Journeys strengthen critical skills, mindsets, and values while also enhancing academic lessons with rigor and real world meaning. School leaders feel this is the way to really showcase their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and SEL in their classrooms. We’ve even heard students say this is the first time in their lives they’ve felt they were given a chance to think for themselves.

How to Support SEL

This is our moment to invest in the growth of the Global SEL movement. And there are high impact ways to get involved:

  • Support the creation of stories about topics or regions that you deeply care about, and that you believe youth must be learning about as they grow up.
  • Sponsor schools that can’t afford this kind of curriculum.
  • Set up meetings with, or join, your local PTA or school board to begin amplifying the conversations around how we can bring global SEL to more students.
  • Get the word out. Help bring the conversations that matter to the places that decision makers in education go. For example, write an op-ed in an education publication bringing your unique perspective to the table.