Supporting Social Emotional Learning with Yoga Programs
What is SEL and why does it matter in schools?
If you’ve ever been to a hospital, you may have encountered a doctor or surgeon who is notorious for their bad bedside manner. Maybe they had trouble looking at you in the eye when they spoke, or came off as abrupt, coarse, rude, or uncompassionate. We’ve all been there, and while these individuals may certainly be intelligent, that doesn’t mean they possess all the qualities of a great doctor. To be successful in a career, just as in school and at home, social and emotional skills are just as important, if not more important, than what we know. Being able to connect and communicate with other human beings, and to be in control of our thoughts, feelings and actions, allows us to be productive, happy, and healthy members of society.
This is exactly why Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, is so important. Social Emotional Learning focuses on giving students the tools they need to “understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL). As educators, this is what we want for our students. To have all of the skills and knowledge they need to have fulfilling relationships and to pursue whatever goals lie beyond the classroom.
Breaking Down SEL
To give students the foundation to cultivate this skillset, Social Emotional Learning focuses on five key components that all build upon and complement one another:
Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is the foundation for all other social emotional skills. When students are self-aware, they are in tune with their thoughts and emotions, and are able to foster greater self-respect and self-confidence, even in the midst of stress.
Self-Management: Self-management refers to a student’s capacity to control their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in a variety of different environments and situations. Self-management comes into play when a student needs to control their temper in front of their peers, or when they need to put in an extra hour of studying to ace a test.
Social Awareness: Social awareness refers to a student’s ability to understand and appreciate the unique perspectives of the people they interact with from day to day, whether it’s their peers, teachers, siblings, or parents. Social awareness opens the door for empathy and compassion.
Relationship Skills: Relationship skills enable students to maintain healthy relationships throughout their lives, by helping them to listen attentively and communicate clearly, navigate peer pressure, and work well with others, even through conflict.
Responsible Decision Making: Responsible decision making refers to a student’s ability to reason through the potential outcomes of a decision and make an appropriate choice for themselves and others based on their experience, values, and societal norms.
SEL in Schools
Whether you plan to or not, simply by being a part of students’ lives day in and day out, teachers, administrators, and school staff have an immense influence on the social development of kids. So why not harness that influence for good? Research is demonstrating that cultivating these SEL skills help individuals thrive in all aspects of their day-to-day life, both personally and academically (CASEL). For schools, this means that incorporating SEL into the classroom can lead to brighter futures for students. Moreover, SEL’s inside-out development can lead to more widespread transformation in student behaviors and school culture.
This is even more important in the face of obstacles that students and schools face today, including bullying, violence, substance abuse, and dropping out:
According to StopBullying.gov, almost 1 out of 2 children in grades 4-12 reported being bullied by other students at least once in the past month. Nearly 1 in 3 reported bullying others themselves.
Among students between the ages of 12 and 18, the CDC reported a 486,400 instances of nonfatal, violent victimizations (2014).
A 2016 report from the Office of Adolescent Health revealed that nearly 40 percent of high school seniors reported drinking alcohol, almost 23 percent reported using marijuana, and 16 percent reported smoking cigarettes.
- In 2014, 6.5% of students dropped out of school (NCES, 2016).
It’s all (Inter)Personal
These statistics all reflect an underlying deficit in our students’ social and emotional capacities. While SEL certainly is only a piece of a larger solution, recent analyses demonstrate that incorporating such programs into the classroom can have a profound impact on student outcomes and school climate. For instance, researchers Durlak, Weissberg, et al. found that schools with SEL programs in place saw better academic performance and improved student attitudes and behaviors, with less negative behaviors and bolstered emotional states (CASEL, 2015). By focusing energy on equipping individual students with the tools they need for personal development, to better manage their own emotions and connect with their peers, schools empowered students to achieve more and to cultivate connectivity. What’s personal becomes intrinsically interpersonal so as students succeed, the school culture shifts too.
Yoga Ed. x SEL
This may seem like big talk, but choosing a program to integrate Social and Emotional Learning into your classrooms doesn’t have to be a headache. And in fact, CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, outlines a key element of SEL that makes your decision a breeze. In order for SEL programming to be effective, it must first embody the notion that the “best learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging, and meaningful.” In other words, it starts with the teachers, and the relationships they’re able to develop with their students in the classroom.
This concept is at the heart of Yoga Ed. and is one of the reasons that Yoga Ed. has been so successful in supporting the tenets of SEL. Yoga Ed.’s curriculum was designed by educators and for educators, focusing on giving teachers concrete, classroom-tested tools to boost student engagement in learning, and to promote positive connection. When teachers are empowered to do their jobs as best they can and students feel connected and cared for, everyone is given the chance to bloom. This connectivity also extends beyond the classroom, and Yoga Ed. goes further to provide parents and community-members with an opportunity to get involved. Parents in particular can bring yoga tools that cultivate SEL skills into their homes, even at dinner time or in the car. Because Yoga Ed. is adopted from the ground up, everyone is on the same page and functioning under the same overarching framework.
This grassroots approach to SEL works. In two separate studies, evaluating both Yoga Ed.’s mat and chair yoga programming, students had measured improvements in both personal and interpersonal SEL outcomes. For example, students who were exposed to Yoga Ed. programming experienced statistically significant improvements in self-esteem over the course of the school year, and performed better academically, with greater participation in yoga correlating with a higher GPA (Slovacek, 2003).
Greater self-concept and improved decision making also reflected in their behavioral outcomes. The same study found that there was a negative correlation between student yoga participation and negative behavior. So, students who had “high participation rates in yoga class had fewer referrals or discipline problems” (Slovacek, 2003). Similarly, Chen and colleagues discovered in a 2014 study that students who were exposed to Yoga Ed. in the classroom, through chair yoga brain breaks, yielded growth in several domains of SEL, including confidence, self-esteem, concentration and interpersonal relationships. Even in small doses, when integrated into classes, Yoga Ed. makes SEL come alive in classrooms.
The cherry on top? In addition to supporting social and emotional outcomes, Yoga Ed. also gets students moving, and supports key components of student health through physical activity. With so much content that teachers need to cover in a school year, it’s no wonder that many districts are forced to cut down on the time students are given to be active. However, there’s no need to sacrifice the time movement just because you want to enrich your curriculum with SEL. With Yoga Ed., teachers are able to explicitly teach SEL topics like self-awareness through the movement itself: allowing students to give an experience a name and to embody that concept while developing strength and flexibility.
As a result, research shows that students can higher fitness levels than if they didn’t have yoga in the classroom (Slovacek, 2003), for happier, healthier kids who are equipped with skills to feel balanced: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Understanding School Violence. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/school_violence_fact_sheet-a.pdf
Chen, D.D., and Pauwels, L. (2014). Perceived Benefits of Incorporating Yoga into Classroom Teaching: Assessment of the Effects of “Yoga Tools for Teachers.” Advances in Physical Education, 4, 138-148.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2013). Social and Emotional Core Competencies. Retrieved from http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/core-competencies/
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2013). Outcomes Associated with the Five Competencies. Retrieved from https://casel.org/impact/
National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Drop Out Rates. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16
Office of Adolescent Health. (2016). Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/substance-abuse/home.html#
StopBullying.gov. (2014). Facts About Bullying. Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/news/media/facts/#listing
Slovacek, S.P., Tucker, S.A., & Pantoja, L. (2003). Study of the Yoga Ed. program at the Accelerated School. Los Angeles, CA: Program Evaluation & Research Collaborative, Charter College of Education.
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