Social Emotional Learning and Character Development – Character Education

Twenty-three states have announced standards for social and emotional learning in schools for some or all grade levels. Representatives from 25 states attended a national meeting of the Collaborating States Initiative (CSI), launched by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

State departments of education have crafted guidelines for implementation in schools and after-school programs. California is one of these states. In February 2018, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction announced new guiding principles for strong educational practices. 

Social and emotional learning is the process by which individuals acquire the social and emotional abilities to accomplish goals and become responsible citizens. Education Week offers this helpful video overview: Social and Emotional Learning Explained.  Character education is an important piece of this approach.

Research shows that social and emotional learning is necessary for physical and mental health, academic achievement, and life satisfaction, and is most effective when is done explicitly and as part of the school curriculum. 

ASCD’s recommended approach for educating the whole child calls for the integration of social and emotional learning into the curriculum. 

There are five main groups of skills that students acquire through social and emotional learning:

  1. Social skills are important for building relationships, expressing emotions and attitudes appropriately, seeking help and giving help, collaborating with others, acting as leaders, and resolving conflicts constructively.
  2. Social awareness skills are needed for accurate perception of others’ thoughts, feelings, and needs, correctly interpreting social interactions, knowledge of societal and cultural norms and of one’s social image and reputation.
  3. Social decision-making and problem-solving skills involve moral sensitivity, moral commitment, and ethical reasoning skills. These skills are essential for avoiding risky behavior, developing a sense of purpose, being successful while maintaining ethical conduct, and becoming an engaged citizen in a democratic society.
  4. Self-awareness skills are required for an accurate sense of one’s strengths and limitations, interpretation of one’s thoughts and feelings, and a growth mindset – the belief that abilities are expandable. These skills are necessary for achieving happiness and good health. 
  5. Self-management skills are required for controlling impulses, attenuating intense emotions, setting personal goals, and motivating oneself to work towards these goals. These skills are the first ones that children develop and are the foundation for healthy, balanced, and satisfying life. 

Character education is the component of social and emotional learning that promotes core virtues, moral sensitivity, moral commitment, ethical reasoning, and personal growth aspirations.

  • Moral sensitivity is the ability to identify moral problems. Moral sensitivity depends on the development of virtues such as fairness, compassion, and responsibility. The Character-Based Literacy Program promotes moral sensitivity by introducing students to moral and ethical questions through literature.
  • Moral commitment is the perception of moral values as an integral part of one’s identity. It includes moral courage – the willingness to put ethics into action despite one’s fears. A whole-school implementation model that integrates character education into the curriculum promotes moral commitment as well as a safe and supportive school climate.  
  • Ethical reasoning requires a careful analysis of the problem and the anticipated consequences of various actions. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics provides a framework for ethical decision-making. Teachers and students can use the online app for exploring ethical dilemmas. We recommend that teachers download and print the classroom poster to remind students of the framework for ethical decision-making.
  • Personal growth happens when children and adolescents develop virtues such as perseverance, prudence, integrity, purposefulness, resourcefulness, and courage. Character education gives students the tools they need to self-reflect on their personal goals and effectively express themselves when talking with peers and adults about accomplishing their goals.